When the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association meets July 16 in Murfreesboro to decide on a potential public-private split, Lewis County High School, one of the two schools that proposed the split in March 2014, will have a direct say in the matter.
Perhaps ironically, the 24 private schools that currently compete in Division I and will be impacted the most do not get a vote. Among those schools are Christ Presbyterian Academy, Clarksville Academy, Columbia Academy, Goodpasture, Grace Christian (Franklin), Lipscomb Academy, Middle Tennessee Christian and Nashville Christian.
“It’s kind of out of our control right now,” CPA athletic director Mike Ellson said. “Our goal is to stay true to the mission of our schools … It’s like a fence post in a heavy wind, we’re just going to try and stay as strong as we can.”
Lewis County assistant principal and athletic director Michael Tatum holds one of the nine seats on the TSSAA’s Legislative Council — the group that ultimately will vote or table a vote on the issue — and despite a potential lack of impartiality, Tatum will not recuse himself.
“I’m going to vote,” Tatum said. “I’m not saying right now how I’ll vote, but I’m going to definitely be there (July 16) to represent my district.”
“I have the highest respect for Mike Tatum,” Lipscomb Academy athletic director Mike Roller said. “He’s a good man, he’s a wise man, and if he brought (the proposal) to the table, I think he thought it was the best thing for the organization, not just for one particular portion of the organization.”
Still, there isn’t a single private school representative on the TSSAA’s Legislative Council or Board of Control. A vote in favor of a public-private split, which would fundamentally alter the landscape of high school athletics in Tennessee, will take place without any direct representation from the schools that would be affected most.
The election of members to the Legislative Council takes place at an annual meeting of schools for each Grand Division — East, Middle and West. Each division is divided into three districts, and each district elects a Legislative Council member every three years. Nominations must come from within the district of the member whose term is expiring, and only the members of that district may vote.
“The most recent was on the council, Steve Harris (2003-12), who was an administrator from Franklin Road Academy,” TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie said. “In the 17 years I’ve been here, there has never been one on the board.”
At the TSSAA public-private study committee meeting on March 2, Father Ryan athletic director Pat Lawson made a proposal to change Articles III and IV of the TSSAA Constitution, adding three independent school representatives to both the organization’s legislative council and board of control.
Lawson’s proposal, along with the proposal for a split, was tabled by the council at its March 12 meeting.
“I think the TSSAA recognizes that that needs to change, and I feel like in the near future, they’ll change it,” said Roller, who served with Lawson on the 15-member public-private split study committee.
Perhaps, but not before July 16.
Both proposals go to vote at the same meeting, where a number of possible scenarios could play out.
The council was presented with five options at last month’s public-private work session.
“Whether they vote to table those items, vote them in or vote them down, they’ll all be on the agenda,” Gillespie said. “The way they vote on one could affect the way they vote on the other. If they decide to split, they might be more open to adding seats. If they decide to stick together they may say, ‘Well, if we’re doing that, we’re not adding seats.'”
“I want those people to vote on what the right thing is,” Roller said. “I’m counting on public school people to vote on doing the right thing, not just the thing that would please their school or satisfy their constituency.”
It’s not the first time Lewis County, a small rural public school in Hohenwald, has inspired change in the TSSAA.
In November 2012, the school filed a motion to leave District 12-AA, which included CPA. Lewis County’s maneuver passed, and meant the Panthers, which cited geographic purposes, would move with Fairview High School to District 11-AA, a district composed entirely of public schools.
“In basketball, we basically were playing for second place throughout,” Tatum said. “That was the feeling of the coaches and administrators in 12-AA.”
The motion came down to a vote by the TSSAA’s Board of Control, a nine-member committee that included Lewis County assistant principal Bryan True. Like what Tatum plans to do on July 16, True did not recuse himself then, and the motion ultimately passed 5 to 4.
Last basketball season, fellow rural public school Trousdale County — the other school that made the proposal for a split — elected not to play regular-season games against District 8-A foe Goodpasture.
The disdain of those schools, along with others, to participate within the same division as private schools, has been a driving force for the upcoming vote on a potential split.
Reach Michael Murphy at 615-259-8262 and on Twitter @Murph_TNsports.
TSSAA Legislative Meeting
What: The nine-member TSSAA Legislative Council will take up the public-private issue.
When: July 16, 1 p.m.
Where: DoubleTree Hotel, 1850 Old Fort Parkway, Murfreesboro
The meeting will be open to the public
TSSAA Classification Proposals
Complete split: Separate public and private schools, forcing the state’s 24 private schools that compete in Division I to join Division II, regardless of financial aid status.
Postseason split: Public and private schools would compete together in three classifications during the regular season, then be separated for the postseason.
Success Advancement: Schools would be divided into two divisions – a public division and an open division (comprised of private, charter, magnet schools). A formula that would bump schools up in classification based on their on-field success would be applied to the open division. The public division would be classified strictly by enrollment figures.
Urban-rural split: Separate schools based on where they are considered “urban” or “rural,” which would be determined by the population density surrounding the school.
Keep the current system: Schools that provide need-based financial aid will remain in Division II, while those that do not will compete in Division I.