The TSSAA’s football realignment this past week will create plenty of buzz in the offseason – most of it positive.
Gone are the days of teams in Classes 1A, 3A and 5A playing against teams in bigger classes trying to go to the playoffs. Also, coaches no longer have to rely on the smartest guy on their staff or somebody within the school or a buddy in the next town to figure out who they probably have in the playoffs as the regular season is winding down in October.
Football is back to the playoffs being decided on the field instead of in a hard drive in Nashville.
But there will be some negative buzz as well because when you’re dealing with nearly 300 schools, deciding to go one way or another will always cause at least a few schools to go in a direction they don’t want to go unless they want to split off from the pack.
Here’s a list of possible winners and losers in the new alignment. Some of these are based on projected competition relative to the past few years. Some are based on travel concerns or reliefs because of where schools fall within their regions. But there are winners and losers within each region and each class.
• Bruceton and Huntingdon: While Huntingdon head coach Eric Swenson said he was fine with traveling to places like Collinwood, Waynesboro and Clarksville for region games, it’s hard to keep that in mind while simultaneously forgetting the Mustangs and Tigers aren’t in the same region with West Carroll, who’s in the same county, and Dresden and Gleason, a couple of towns within 20 miles of Huntingdon.
• Gleason, Greenfield, Lake County, South Fulton and West Carroll: This is a Class 1A region, but there’s a lot of discrepancy among the school sizes. Early projections for Union City and Peabody had them becoming 2A schools, but that wasn’t the case. The idea was thrown out there this week of also having a class of the smallest 32 schools like there is of the largest 32. That could come up in the future, but first the question must be answered if the schools could afford the travel.
• Scotts Hill and Riverside: Both the Lions and Panthers are West Tennessee schools, and they’ve been in a West Tennessee district. Both head coaches said they wanted to stay on this side of the river, but the TSSAA has them going across the Tennessee River playing larger schools. One of them – Hickman County – is still alive in this year’s 3A playoffs.
• JCM, South Side, McNairy and South Gibson: The top four in each region will go to the playoffs. The coaches like that, so it’s a good thing. Here’s why it’s a bad thing for the four schools mentioned above: They have to compete with Dyersburg, Liberty, Milan and Westview for those playoff spots.
• Dyersburg and Westview: They may have to do it only once in the next two years, but the fact remains Dyersburg and Martin are nowhere near Selmer, and they will have to travel that far to play a region game.
• Dyer County, Obion County and Ripley: While each program has had good teams in recent seasons, they’ve all fallen on hard times the past couple of seasons. Now they are fighting to finish in the top four of a nine-team region that includes Chester County, Crockett County, Hardin County, Haywood Lexington and North Side — all of which have a lot of quality talent coming back to make a fierce competition among themselves much less three more squads.
• North Side: The Indians are in a nine-team region, which means they could have eight region games. That leaves two spots for non-region games. There are three big rivals for the Indians inside the city with Liberty, Jackson Central-Merry and South Side. One of those teams won’t be able to play North Side.
• Union City, Peabody and Dresden: It’s hard for small school teams that have seen a lot of success to find non-region games more times than not. If they go to an eight-game region schedule, that means there’s only two games each one needs to come up with.
• Middleton: The Tigers are going into a Memphis-based region in which they’re the only team not in the Bluff City. There are seven teams in the region, and it’s very possible the Tigers would’ve finished fourth and made the playoffs.
• Jackson Christian and Gibson County: Their region is pretty spread out, but they benefit from being close to the center of travel plus being able to compete for a top-four spot. McKenzie, Adamsville and Trinity Christian will be a tough group of three teams to play with, but the fourth spot is among the Eagles, Pioneers and Halls.
• Camden: The travel isn’t great since the Lions are back in a Middle Tennessee region, but they’re used to it. The good part is the list of other teams in the region isn’t exactly a list of mid-state perennial powers, so competing for championships should be a big part of the program’s short-term future.
• McNairy: The Bobcats got what they wanted and moved over to Region 7. The competition is tougher, but they should make more money with more people coming to the games.
• Bolivar: The Tigers didn’t try to move to Region 7, and that may be a good thing. They’re closer to Memphis than McNairy, and they were probably good enough to finish in the top four among the teams in their region if they’d been together this season.
• Hardin County: The Tigers just completed their last football season as the only Class AAA team in the Sun’s coverage area. That meant the most logical district opponents for them the past few years have been Dyer County, Brighton and Munford. Now Hardin County will play closer teams like Chester County, Lexington and North Side. Also they have potentially two games they have to fill for a non-region schedule instead of seven like two years ago.
• Region 7-4A and Region 7-1A each have nine teams. Coaches in both regions will decide this week whether to play everybody or have three three-team pods in which everybody won’t play everybody. If they decide to go with pod play, they will then have to figure out tie-breaker procedures in case teams wind up with the same record.
• When teams open their seasons next year, everyone across the state will have to get used to not referring to the first week as Week 0. The final game will no longer be called Week 10 either. It will now be known as Week 11, the same way as the NFL refers to its 16-game schedule spread out over 17 weeks.
Brandon Shields, 425-9751
See the player of the week, Dirty Dozen rankings and Sunday Morning Quarterback for the second round of the playoffs, C3.