MURFREESBORO – Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Executive Director Bernard Childress called it closing a loophole Tuesday.
Private school administrators called it creating confusion as to where they fit in the high school athletic association.
The loophole? While private schools providing need-based financial aid had been sent to compete in Division II, those that provided aid or work study to non-athlete immediate family members of athletes had been allowed to remain in a division competing with public schools.
That was resolved Tuesday when TSSAA’s Legislative Council approved five of six proposals, including the creation of a “financial assistance program.” The program is for all schools – both public and private – that provide any financial assistance to tuition-paying athletes or members of athletes’ immediate family. Financial assistance includes student employment for athletes or employment for parents, guardians or immediate family members unless they are a full-time certified teacher or classified employee.
Any public or private school that has a financial assistance program (i.e., loans or employment) must compete in Division II, which currently includes schools that offer need-based financial aid, or money. That program begins in the 2017-18 school year after the next reclassification.
The state goes through reclassification every four years.
“Twenty years ago when the rule was put in to have Division I and Division II and base it on need-based financial aid they left some gaps in the rules, and loopholes that people could use,” Childress said. “(Tuesday), they closed those loopholes.”
Childress acknowledged that some may attempt to find new loopholes.
“You can’t write a rule for everything,” Childress said. “We couldn’t legislate morals and ethics. … You have to write what you feel is fair and equitable for everyone.”
Childress pointed out that each approved proposal affects public and private schools. The Council’s decisions came 47 days after it voted against a complete public-private split by a 5-4 vote.
Lewis County assistant principal Mike Tatum, who is on the Legislative Council, said he remains unconvinced that the decisions will create a fair and level playing field between public and private schools.
Lewis County and Trousdale County officials had proposed a public-private split.
“I really don’t think it will,” Tatum said. “Time will tell. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Private school administrators spent several minutes after the votes asking questions of Childress and TSSAA attorney Rick Colbert about the approved proposals.
“I think the first thing we need is clarity of explanation and definitions from the TSSAA, which hopefully they will address in rules meetings (later this month),” said Christ Presbyterian Academy headmaster Nate Morrow. “It’s too hard to predict exactly how it is going to affect us until we understand the definition around every one of those things.
“I think that is a public (school) and private (school) conversation. Both people need to know.”
Chuck Daniel, athletic director at Creek Wood, a public school that competes against private schools CPA and Lipscomb Academy in Division I, approved of the decision, but didn’t have issue playing both schools.
“… If you were to ask me, I’d probably favor a split, but I’ve had a pretty good relationship with those people,” Daniel said. “I like the ruling because I think it makes it fair across the board. It may put public schools on notice if an out-of-school kid is coming to their school and he is getting his tuition paid for by somebody else, that’s considered Division II.
“So that may slow down some of the beef that private schools have with public schools or magnet schools. I think TSSAA is trying to make it fair across the board, and I agree with that.”
Other items approved:
Athletic coaching link: If a student transfers and an “athletic coaching link” existed in the past 12 months, that student is ineligible for 12 months at all levels beginning with the 2016-17 school year. Coaching links include a player’s attendance at an individual camp and then transferring to that coach’s school, playing on a non-school team and then transferring to that coach’s school, transferring to a school where a former coach has just been hired and transferring to a school where a former or current personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach is employed.
The rule doesn’t apply to a student who moves to his or her new school after completion of the highest grade at the previous school.
Siegel made a similar proposal several years ago, but it was not approved.
“I think it’s a good rule,” Siegel girls basketball coach Alan Bush. “Hopefully now some of the issues in high school sports will be addressed. Hopefully they will deal with them a little more appropriately.”
Weight training/conditioning: Only students enrolled and in regular attendance at the school may participate during the school year. That includes eighth-graders who attend a high school conditioning program in the spring. The rule becomes official Oct. 1.
Coaching change: Coaches will fall into one of four categories: full-time certified teacher, retired educator, non-faculty coach and classified employee.
All coaches must be approved by the principal, schools director or school board. All coaches must go through the proper TSSAA training. But the new rule does not set limits as to how many coaches can be used.
All classified employees or non-faculty coaches must continue to have five years of experience as a coach at a TSSAA or TMSAA school to serve as a head coach in baseball, basketball, football, softball and track.
The rule goes into effect in the 2016-17 school year.
The board denied the proposal to declare any student ineligible who lives outside of his or her eligibility zone and enrolls in that school after the completion of the eighth grade. The proposal was for that athlete to be ineligible for 12 months.
“It was a major concern when you look at school choice,” said Maplewood principal Ron Woodard, a Legislative Council member. “School choice is a new option in our district, and we want the students to have the opportunity to choose the school that’s in their best interests and have the opportunity to start a fresh new athletic record without any penalty.”
Reach Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 and on Twitter @Kreager. Contributing: Michael Murphy and Sam Brown