Brentwood Academy athletics director and football coach Cody White understands the value of maintaining a strong fan base.
The Eagles often pack their home stadium on Friday nights in the fall and benefit from having those faithful fans follow them on the road.
But White also understands the incentive of keeping that fan base happy.
Traveling to play regular season high school football games in cities such as Louisville, Ky.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Olive Branch, Miss., isn’t exactly ideal. Although White is grateful for the opportunity for his team to stretch its traveling legs, he would rather play backyard opponents such as Brentwood, Ravenwood and Independence.
If the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association votes on a split between public and private schools on July 16, backyard matchups could become less frequent. With a complete split, the incentive of a public power such as Brentwood High to play Brentwood Academy would be low. And that has been an issue between public and private schools for decades.
“I understand what the issues regarding this potential split are about,” White said. “But I’d like to see some of those homegrown rivalries develop. I’d like to see us play a Brentwood. But that’s not going to happen with a complete split between public and private schools. You lose that.”
Like most Division II schools in Tennessee, creative scheduling and expensive travel bills are the norm. White said it took him four months to complete his football schedule as his team will face Louisville Trinity, University Christian School (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Olive Branch High (Mississippi) in the fall.
The last time Brentwood Academy faced Brentwood was 2002. Since then, the Eagles have played the bigger public schools in its neighborhood sporadically. They faced both Ravenwood and Independence in the same season twice (2007 and 2008). They took on Maplewood in 2011 and ‘12, and played Science Hill in 2013 and ‘14.
All of the state’s 24 private schools in Division I will be placed in Division II with schools such as Brentwood Academy, McCallie, Ensworth, Montgomery Bell Academy, Baylor and Memphis University School.
Although a split would drastically shift the landscape of those schools involved, White feels the measure would have little effect on D-II schools.
Currently, Division II has 46 member institutions. Thirty-one schools are in Class A, while the remaining 15 schools play in Class AA. White’s Eagles are in DII-AA but is only one of 11 schools that participate in football in that classification.
Bobby Alston, who serves as athletics director at Memphis University School, said that a split won’t have a drastic effect on Division II schools. MUS competes with only three other schools in the West Region of DII-AA. All are Memphis-area programs, including Christian Brothers, Briarcrest Christian and St. Benedict of Auburndale (in Cordova).
“There are several of our schools that have been together since the TSSAA decided on the original split of divisions (in 1997),” Alston said.
But Alston, whose MUS football team beat Brentwood Academy in the DII-AA state quarterfinal in the fall, echoed a common sentiment among most Division II schools.
“What’s more important to me is giving our schools more control of our playoff situation,” he said. “We want to be able to play our state championship game the way we think it could benefit all the Division II schools.”
With so much talk of a possible split, the TSSAA legislative council will have options at its disposal during the July 16 vote. A complete split is just one of the five proposed changes. The council could vote to keep the current system in place or decide to only split the postseason.
Baylor School athletics director Thad Lepcio, was present at the TSSAA study session June 11 as the organization discussed an issue that, at times, has been at the forefront of high school athletics in Tennessee for more than 30 years.
“I thought going into that study session that if I was in Las Vegas I’d put everything on a complete split happening,” Lepcio said. “What are we really talking about here? We’re talking about 24 (Division I) schools. So it’s interesting to me that all of this debate is basically about 5 percent of the schools in the state.”
There are nine private schools in the Chattanooga area that compete under the TSSAA banner. Only three compete in Division II — McCallie, Baylor and Girls Preparatory School. The remainder compete in Division I (Boyd-Buchanan, Silverdale Baptist, Chattanooga Christian, Collegedale Academy, Grace Baptist and Notre Dame).
“Other than McCallie, Brentwood Academy is our closest (East and Middle) region opponent and that’s 127 miles away,” Lepcio said. “The one appealing thing to us, if a split happens, is we could pick up some more local competition.”
If a complete split happens, the TSSAA could decide to shuffle the alignment of the Division II schools. Currently, Division II, Class A is much larger than its 2A counterpart. There are 20 teams — separated into two regions, East/Middle and West — in Class A. In 2A only four of the 11 football-playing schools are in the West Region. Three are from Memphis (Christian Brothers, MUS and Briarcrest Christian) and one in Cordova (St. Benedict). But if a split were to occur, some Division II schools don’t see how changing the region alignment to balance teams would have a big impact.
“You have two different issues,” Alston said. “You have football and then you got everything else. Football I don’t think will change much in terms of alignment.”
While the TSSAA helped to formulate a working district and region alignment for public and private schools in Division I, D-II schools were left to forge their own path.
“What we did was essentially ask, ‘How many schools (in D-II) would be considered Single A schools?’ ” Alston said. “We let those Single A schools remain Single A in D-II. If you were a single A school in D-I, then you were Single A in D-II. We didn’t try to make regions have an equal number of teams. We didn’t want to force the smaller private schools to play the big private programs.”
Alston said the West Region in D-II, Class 2A has become ultra-competitive and doesn’t see how changing the setup would benefit schools in his area.
“If we were all together during the regular season and then split in the playoffs, I’d like to see that,” he said. “Because then we could play some of the big public schools in our area. But that’s not going to happen. We have our system and it’s not easy in terms of scheduling and travel, but we’ve all prospered.”
For schools such as Franklin Road Academy in D-II, Class 2A, the potential of including 24 private schools from Division I may, again, only provide an opportunity for easier scheduling.
“I would assume they’d have three classifications, if you’re talking about adding all the D-I programs being added to the D-II schools,” FRA football coach Bill Whittemore said. “It would be based on enrollment and those that chose to play up would play up.”
Whittemore said he’d love the idea of a split if it meant creating an easier scheduling opportunity. FRA hasn’t had to include a lot of out-of-state schools on its schedule in recent years, but Whittemore said his team did play Louisville (Ky.) Holy Cross in 2011 and 2012. The Panthers have dabbled in the public school waters, facing teams such as Hillsboro (2012) and Pearl Cohn (2013, 2014).
“We’ve had to find as many as seven games,” he said. “I think adding the D-I schools would make our path to the playoffs a lot more difficult, but I’d love to see that competition grow.”
“Regardless, either way, there will be some people happy and some upset. Everyone has their opinions, but the TSSAA does a good job figuring out these things. We’ve got a good group leading the charge, and I trust their decision making.”
George Robinson is a high school sports writer for The Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville. Reach him at email@example.com.
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE
• Keep current system in place: Need-based financial aid schools will remain in D-II while all other schools compete in D-I.
• Postseason split: Public and private schools compete together during regular season and split during postseason.
• Complete split: Separate public and private schools for regular season and postseason.
• Success advancement: Schools would be divided into two divisions — a Public division and Open division. Public division would include public schools with zones and districts. Open division would include private, charter, magnet and public schools that require tuition for 10 percent or more of their students.
• Urban-rural split: Schools would be split based on whether they are considered an urban or rural institution, determined by population density.
Private school numbers
24: Private schools competing in Division I
46: Private schools competing in Division II
31: Number of Division II schools that participate in football