This time, they listened.
Acting on a recommendation from the state office, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Board of Control voted unanimously to change the Division I football playoff system for the 2015-16 and ’16-17 school years.
With the change, the state’s 32 largest schools based on enrollment will be placed in one class. The remaining 273 schools would be separated into five classes.
The 32-team class will consist of four regions, with every team advancing to a 32-team postseason bracket. The remaining five classes each will consist of eight regions, with the top four finishers in each region advancing to a 32-team playoff bracket.
“I really believe the membership wants a change from the way the playoffs are now,” said Hillwood principal Steve Chauncy, who seconded the motion of Tullahoma athletics director Jerry Mathis to adopt the state office’s recommendation. “Coaches and administrators clearly want to know how the playoffs are going to come out at the end of the year, as well as schools are concerned about parity, about equalizing enrollments.”
The original vote was 8-1, with Lewis County assistant principal Bryan True voting against the proposal. However, he changed his vote for the final record, making the decision unanimous.
“I talked to several schools in my area that were very passionate about wanting to change,” True said. “Three didn’t want to change, but the other 24 or so wanted some type of change, whether five (classes) or six. I would have voted for five.”
By approving the recommendation, the Board brings a foreseeable end to a playoff format that has been under fire since its inception for the 2009 season. The scheme has placed schools in three classes for regular-season play, with each of those three classes split in half for the postseason. Teams that have not advanced by finishing first or second in their districts have achieved playoff spots based on a series of sometimes confusing criteria that includes overall victories.
Meanwhile, the current difference in enrollment between the largest and smallest Class AAA school is 1,314 students.
“That’s what’s exciting — knowing you’re not going to see a school sitting with a 1,000-student enrollment playing against a school with 2,300,” TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. “That number is going to drop tremendously. That’s been a huge issue in our state, and we’re excited that we’re going to have a chance to address it.”
Starting in 2015
The upcoming season will be the last year for the current format.
Once enrollment figures for the current school year are confirmed, the state office will put the schools in their respective classes. Schools then will have an opportunity to move up if they want. Once all movement has taken place, schools would be placed in regions, with those configurations to be voted on or tweaked as necessary at the November Board of Control meeting.
“We’re anxious to get started working on the plan,” Childress said. “We’re glad to be going back to something we feel the coaches understand, with the top four teams going to the playoffs and (that) they make that decision on the field against their regional opponents.”
The move already is gaining positive response among Midstate coaches.
“I like the fact it’s based on your region record, and I like that travel isn’t an issue until the playoffs,” McGavock coach Jay Gore said. “I also like knowing who I’ll play in the playoffs.”
Two years ago, the state office recommended that the Board approve a return to the five-class system that was in place from 1993-2008.
Instead, the Board voted at that time to continue the current format.
“It’s always challenging,” Childress said of the system now in place. “It’s been challenging from day one. There’s been a constant focus on — let’s just get it right. We spend so much time trying to get it right.
“I feel this does address some of the issues we’ve had in the past.”
Reach Maurice Patton at 615-259-8018 and on Twitter @mopatton_sports.