Four Rutherford County football teams will board buses and ready themselves for lengthy road trips Friday.
It’s a reoccurring theme this season as local teams have been forced to travel to different regions of the state, or out of state, to fulfill the back end of two-year contracts. The added travel is a direct result of the TSSAA’s current playoff system that rewards overall record in qualifying for the playoffs.
Because of that, several teams from District 7-AAA have been forced to travel greater distances.
And no week of the regular season will have more travel for county teams as this one. Four teams — Blackman, MTCS, Siegel and Smyrna — will travel more than 200 miles round-trip for non-conference games. MTCS will travel more than 450 miles to Cosby. Smyrna will travel nearly 500 miles round-trip for its game in Olive Branch, Miss.
Collectively, the four schools will travel more than 1,400 miles this weekend.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said extended non-district travel for some quality teams was one of the key reasons why he recommended to the TSSAA Board of Control to go back to five classes. The Board of Control voted 5-4 in July to keep the current six-class system through the 2016-17 school year.
“The discussion was early on that the six classes would keep teams closer to home,” Childress said. “It worked for some. But a lot of our school administrators said it evens out in five- and six-class systems. If you are really good, nobody wants to play you.
“Now, coaches are having to go searching for games. Most times, it’s far off. That, to us, was a negative (of the system). That’s why we recommended to go to five classes.”
Childress was an assistant director to now retired Executive Director Ronnie Carter when the TSSAA Board of Control voted in the six-class system, or Z-plan, prior to the 2009-10 school year.
Under the current plan, the district champion and runner-up are rewarded playoff spots. The rest of the playoff bracket is filled through a playoff tiebreaker system that uses most wins as the first criteria.
“Unless we go back to the drawing board and change the playoff system to reward teams that play good teams, it’s not going to change,” Childress said. “The board’s comment was that we were going to six classes and to leave it as it is.”
Area coaches have come to grips with the extended travel. At this point, it’s just finding the best way to make it work for their team.
That means chartering buses in most cases, but not all. Blackman coach Philip Shadowens said his team will travel to Signal Mountain on Friday in school buses.
“That’s how we travel,” Shadowens said. “We’re not going to change anything for that. It’s just like we did during fall camp when we went to Chattanooga McCallie.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal. I’ve never thought that traveling was a big deal. If we went five hours, sure. But we’re going about an hour and 40 minutes up the road.”
Shadowens said the team will have a pre-game meal at Signal Mountain and have meetings there before the game.
Siegel coach Greg Wyant will make the Stars’ trip to Ooltewah a day event. The team will visit the Tennessee Aquarium, do a walk-through at UT-Chattanooga and have a pre-game meal before going to the game.
“We’ve got 31 seniors,” Wyant said. “I hope we can handle (the travel) pretty well. We want to go down there and treat it like a business trip.
“We’re going to make a day of it. We’ll leave and go early. Hopefully, our kids are mature enough for it.”
Smyrna coach Matt Williams said the cost to play at Olive Branch, Miss., on Friday night will have a price tag of about $4,000. He said traveling that distance is something his team must be prepared for as it searches for its first win.
“We’re going to have to address the trip with our kids this week,” Williams said. “It’s a long trip and something our kids are going to have to be ready for.”
Make it a school-wide event
MTCS will make the school’s football game at Cosby in East Tennessee an event for the school this week. That is how it was originally intended when former coach David Peden scheduled the two-year contract with both meetings at Cosby.
The school’s volleyball and girls soccer teams are also playing at Cosby on Friday, adding to the travel, but also adding to the fellowship.
The football team will leave Thursday and stop in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee to visit the football facilities. UT freshman Drae Bowles, who MTCS coach Brian Stewart coached when he was at Jackson Christian, may also meet the team and talk to them.
“I’d love to stay up there the whole weekend, but I can’t,” Stewart said. “By going up Thursday, it will allow us to fellowship and be together and do something together to make some memories. That would be awesome.”