Thursday will be the day people have been looking forward to within the TSSAA for a year-and-a-half.
After the latest proposal by Lewis County and Trousdale County for a complete split between private schools and public schools last year, the issue will finally be voted on to be decided permanently – until somebody figures out the system is unfair to their school and they want to change things again.
Bradford superintendent and Legislative Council president Dan Black said last month he doesn’t know how the vote will go among the nine-member committee, but he’s sure it will be close.
But it’s never had to come to this. Lewis County’s collective paranoia/jealousy of Christ Presbyterian Academy and the way their people have manipulated the system that is TSSAA politics in recent years (the vote this week with Lewis County assistant principal Mike Tatum on the Legislative Council telling The Tennessean last week he plans to vote on his school’s proposal and the way Bryan True, Lewis County’s other assistant principal who’s on the Board of Control, made a motion to redraw district lines in the realignment for the 2013-14 and 14-15 school years and then voted on that motion that pulled his school from the district with CPA into 11-AA with Camden and seven other schools) didn’t have to go this far. They say their concern is equal playing field. That’s the main battle cry of those on this war path for a split.
Here are a few bylaws TSSAA could adopt that would – for the most part – create that equal playing field everyone so desperately wants.
• Don’t allow student-athletes to live outside the school’s designated area.
If TSSAA can mandate Division I private schools can’t allow students receiving financial aid to play sports, they can also mandate no school can put athletes on the field of play unless they live in that school’s area.
Right now the argument of open enrollment schools having an advantage over schools with a geographic zone isn’t that substantial of an argument. In the state of Tennessee, I can send my children to any school I want to send them as long as there’s room for them (and if they’re good enough athletes schools typically find a spare desk they can sit in) and I figure out how to get them there (which for extreme cases that means within an hour of home). If TSSAA put an end to this, a lot of problems would be solved.
Most public schools have some kind of geographic district. If a student-athlete wants to play for that school, he or she must live in that district. No exceptions. No situations where a parent can put the child into whatever school they desire in ninth grade with no penalty. If your son or daughter wants to play any sport for a specific school, then you need to live in that school’s area.
For magnet, charter, open enrollment and private schools, the TSSAA should set a radius – one for all schools and not larger areas for larger schools – that student-athletes should be required to live in if they want to play for that school.
Before I moved to Jackson, a school I covered in Alabama had an accusation of playing an ineligible athlete. The Alabama High School Athletic Association had this rule at the time, so all they had to do was have a staff member drive to the town, check the alleged former address and new address that allowed the transfer to make sure the family had moved and the discussion was complete after that.
•Every student-athlete who transfers schools must sit out a year.
If a family lives on a property on the edge of one county and the student-athlete in that family and the parents decide to play for the school on the other side of the county line, all they have to do is move the short distance to the other side of the line to play for the next school.
That’s fine and within the rules as long as the second school didn’t send a coach to recruit that player, which certain school administrations and coaching staffs always seem to have a conspiracy theory that involves new homes, jobs, vehicles and bundles of cash for the family that moves in those situations and help create results that include league championships and long playoff runs a year after they were barely able to score points to even look like they competed with their opponents.
If you want to eliminate scenarios like that, they will go away when you say the child can’t compete for a year in any sport when he or she transfers.
NOTE: Here’s the only exception I would be OK with: Student-athletes who transfer before their senior season of competition. Believe it or not, not all student-athletes transfer schools for the sole purpose of athletics. Sometimes things happen. Sometimes parents get job transfers. Sometimes divorces happen and the parent that would force a child to move is awarded custody. If TSSAA uses its current standards (or stricter) of determining a bona fide move that would result in allowing a child play his or her final season of high school competition, that would probably be sufficient.
•Enact a buddy system that would help police schools’ practices in obtaining student-athletes.
Here’s an example: North Side and Jackson Central-Merry are less than five miles apart. In every sport but football, they compete in the same district. There are a lot of relationships between kids who go to those schools as well as faculty and staff. Don’t you think if one of those schools was committing a violation and the other caught wind of it they’d want to let the TSSAA know?
Athletes moving to neighboring schools are actually a pretty common occurrence around here, and if TSSAA established a buddy system or even a rule forcing the school losing the athlete to look into the circumstances surrounding the transfer, the receiving school can’t blame or hold any ill will toward the other school if it’s simply carrying out its TSSAA-mandated responsibilities.
If they find some kind of impropriety and don’t report it to the TSSAA, then that’s on the school who lost the athlete for not reporting it.
Would these suggestions eliminate everything people are worried about these days? Of course not, but they would go far in creating the utopia that is a level playing field with a consistent rule affecting all schools in all areas of all sizes the same way.
Consistency is just as important as equality in this situation because you can’t have one without the other.
Brandon Shields is the high school sports columnist of The Jackson Sun. Contact him at 425-9751 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or on Instagram at jacksonsunsports.