A six-class high school football system has been in place in Tennessee for the past three years with a fourth year on tap for this season for TSSAA-member Division I schools.
However, the 2012 high school football season could be the final one in such a format.
The TSSAA will come together this week for its annual Board of Control meetings, and reclassification is first on its agenda.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said this past week that he and his staff have prepared multiple classification plans to be presented beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Embassy Suites and Convention Center when the TSSAA Board of Control holds its workshop session.
Childress said a five-class football playoff system as well as a six-class system will be presented for discussion. And Childress said at least three options for a three-class system as well a four-class system for other sports also will be discussed.
Childress did not provide detailed information of the planned proposals. The new classification won’t go into effect until the 2013-14 school year. He said the board likely would meet two to three hours to discuss the reclassification options on Tuesday. The board will then go through its scheduled agenda on Wednesday. Childress said the board may have an opportunity to spend about four hours on Thursday discussing reclassification, if needed due to a light agenda set for Wednesday. The TSSAA has a room reserved until noon on Thursday in Murfreesboro.
Childress said he hopes to have a plan approved during the board meetings this week. If not, he said a special called meeting will likely be held in July. He said he would prefer to have a new classification in place prior to the Aug. 19 Board of Control meeting.
In a statewide survey of the 302 Division I high school football coaches conducted last year by The Tennessean, 60 percent favored a return to the former five-classification playoff format that had been used from 1993-2008. Division I schools are all public and private institutions that do not offer need-based financial aid.
Since 2009, the state has used a system that placed Division I teams in one of three classes for the regular season, then split those three classes into six for the postseason. It has been criticized since the first year it was in place.
If the majority of Rutherford County football coaches had their way, the TSSAA would approve a plan to go back to the old five-class system in place until 2009 where the top four teams from each region made the football playoffs and matchups are easy to decipher and not require hours of study after the final game of the regular season has been decided.
One Rutherford County coach considered the current format watered down. Others said the current format is too confusing to determine how they can make the playoffs and how to figure out who they may play. And a by-product of the system has been extended travel for non-conference games for teams in District 7-AAA, a league comprised of Rutherford County’s six largest high schools. That is in part to a rich tradition and talented teams.
Under the current six-class system, the top two teams from every district are guaranteed a playoff berth. The remainder of the playoff field is determined by a multi-step formula that begins with best record.
While the former five-class system allowed only four teams from a region, or league, to advance to the playoffs, the current system allows more if those teams qualify through the playoff formula. Last season, five Rutherford County teams from District 7-AAA reached the playoffs.
That is seen as a benefit to some in 7-AAA.
“To me, it can stay the way it is,” La Vergne coach Stanton Stevens said. “If we go back to the regions again, only the top four go to the playoffs. I think this way the better regions, or districts, can get more teams in.
“When you have a 2-8, 3-7 or 1-9 team making the playoffs, that’s not a good system. It’s not valid when a team can win two or three games and make the playoffs.”
Oakland football coach Thomas McDaniel, though, said that’s a trade off he’s willing to make.
“We’re not going to get a T-shirt made that says we made the playoffs or the second round,” said McDaniel, who is also the school’s athletic director. “If you make the playoffs at 3-7, you aren’t going to win the championship. Now, might a 5-5 or a 6-4 team from Rutherford County team not make the playoffs? Yes.
“But that’s part of being in Rutherford County and may be part of being in some other county. Most years the best teams will rise to the top. When you get to the playoffs, it’s a pure system. It’s a one-and-done bracket. Most times the best team wins out.”
McDaniel said the competition level of the TSSAA football state championship games has suffered since going to six Division I classes. McDaniel’s 2008 Oakland team won the final Class 5A state championship game before the TSSAA went to six classes in Division I.
“From a football purist standpoint, I think there are too many state championship games,” McDaniel said. “I think the quality has gone down and I think the common fan will tell you the same thing.
“Now, if you are a team that has benefited from it, you won’t say it. But overall, the quality is down.”
7-AAA forced to travel
McDaniel and other coaches said the old five-class format allowed for coaches to schedule whomever they wanted as the only thing that determined the playoffs was teams’ region record. However, with such an importance on overall record in the current format, it’s forced teams in 7-AAA to travel more in the regular season to play non-district games.
This season Blackman will make two trips to the Chattanooga area in a three-week span to play Signal Mountain and Bradley Central. Siegel also will travel to the Chattanooga area to play Ooltewah. Oakland and Riverdale both open the season in the Memphis area. Oakland plays Arlington and Riverdale plays Brighton. Riverdale also plays in Louisville for the second straight season in a football classic. And Smyrna plays at Olive Branch, Miss.
“I’m in favor of five classes because it means our districts will be bigger,” Blackman coach Philip Shadowens said. “There will not be a need to make two trips to Chattanooga like we are making this year.”
District 7-AAA has struggled with non-district travel, in part because it has only six teams in the league and must find five non-district games. In the five-class format the league had eight teams, so only three non-conference games were needed.
“The main reason for me that I’d like to see it go back to five classes is scheduling,” Smyrna coach Matt Williams said. “When you have to find five non-district games, that’s a lot harder than three.
“You can schedule tougher games in the non-district games, and it won’t keep you out of the playoffs.”