MURFREESBORO – After a year and a half of debating, not much changed after Thursday’s Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Legislative Council vote on a potential public-private split.
A potential landmark decision that would have moved 24 private schools statewide into Division II where need-based financial aid is allowed was diverted by a narrow 5-4 vote.
In its place, the council gave the high school athletic association two more months to hammer out tweaks to its constitutional bylaws that TSSAA staff believe can address concerns of a perceived non-level playing field.
“It’s taken (15 months) for them to identify specific concerns,” TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said. “In month one, we as a staff were saying, ‘Tell us what the issues are and give us the opportunity to address those in the bylaws.
“It took us 15 months to get that question answered. Now that we’ve got that question answered, we feel pretty confident that we can address some of those concerns, or probably all of those concerns in our bylaws.”
However, some are not convinced that a deal will be approved in September.
“Sixteen months is a long time,” said Matt Rigsby, Cannon County’s boys basketball coach. “We need a plan in place. We’ve got a lot of people asking questions, a lot of concerns on both sides. Those concerns need to be dealt with.
“Somebody has to make a decision and stand by it and be behind that decision as a governing body.”
Any changes approved will not go into effect until the 2017-18 school year.
At issue, Childress said, were at least four items that the TSSAA staff was looking at addressing in the bylaws.
•Student employment. Public and private schools that have tuition and offer employment for any athlete or parent, guardian or immediate family member of an athlete. That doesn’t pertain to athletes’ parents who are full-time certified teachers or certified employees.
Currently student employment is not considered need-based financial aid by the TSSAA.
•Tuition for athletes’ siblings. Currently athletes can’t receive aid in Division I schools. However, siblings of athletes can receive aid if they are not athletes.
•Recruiting issue. Childress pointed out that recruiting is difficult to prove. But that doesn’t apply to only private schools. Childress said the last eight recruiting violations that the association has been able to prove came from public schools.
•Non-faculty coaches: Private school coaches have told the TSSAA that they feel they have an advantage in the number of coaches they hire because they can employ a larger number of classified employees or non-certified teachers who work 30 hours per week or more at the school.
Council members Dan Black (Bradford), William McAdams (Hardin County), Greg McCullough (Memphis Central), Ron Woodard (Maplewood) and Michael Reynolds (Knoxville Central) voted against a split. Dan Gilbert (Soddy-Daisy), Jeff Luttrell (Watertown), Mike Tatum (Lewis County) and Keith Turner (Science Hill) were in favor of the split.
“The issue is not over,” said Tatum, whose school was listed with Trousdale County on the proposal to split the public and private schools. “There are a lot of problems out there. But, at some point we will get together and resolve it.”
Middle Tennessee Christian School, a Murfreesboro-based private school competing in Division I, would have been one of the 24 schools affected by a split. MTCS President Phil Ellenburg said he was happy to see the association get more time to act before approving a plan.
“It gives time to address real issues,” Ellenburg said. “Frankly, as we’ve said before, we like where we are. We like the rivalries we have. But that does give time to get into some of the issues.”
But that doesn’t mean a plan will be in place after September.
If the TSSAA’s proposed changes to its bylaws are not approved, the council can’t immediately vote again on a split. The council would likely have to wait until December to vote on other public-private plans, Childress said.
Woodard, who is the principal at Maplewood, said he believed it was imperative to look at bylaw tweaks before voting on such a large decision as a complete public-private split.
“When you try to do what’s right you won’t always be popular, but it’s the right thing to do,” Woodard said.
However, there were several school administrators disappointed with the decision on the split as well as pushing any bylaw changes back two more months.
“I think that there’s no doubt that private schools have certain advantages, and I don’t think that is disputed,” Creek Wood athletic director Chuck Daniel said. “I was a proponent of the split as were most of our coaches at Creek Wood, and it didn’t happen so we’ve just got to … get busy and try to find ways to beat the CPAs, the David Lipscombs.”
White House soccer coach Mark Lamberth agreed with Daniel’s assessment. The school’s boys soccer team has reached the Class A/AA tournament five times since 1997, advancing to the semifinals on four occasions.
The Blue Devils have appeared in sectional matches in six other seasons, suffering a 3-2, sectional loss to eventual state champion Christ Presbyterian Academy in a penalty-kick shootout in May.
In those 11 seasons, White House has been eliminated by a private-school program eight times and once by a magnet school.
“From a spring sports standpoint, I don’t think we’ve been put out (by a public school) at the substate or state level since Lenoir City (the eventual state champion) in ’98,” Lamberth said. “That’s a lot of years. Do I think there should be a complete and total split … yes I do.
“We’ve been having to do it so long. We have an even record over the years with CPA and some others. It just seems like it’s always a private school to put us out. At some point, we have to learn to be mean enough or tough enough to push through it.”
CPA athletic director Mike Ellson said he didn’t feel like the split was targeted at his school despite its recent success. This past year CPA won the Class 3A football title, Class AA baseball title and reached the Class AA boys basketball semifinals.
“We don’t feel like that internally because our focus is loving kids,” Ellson said. “Define success. …
“Championships are not going to define CPA. Making sure our coaches are loving our kids … it’s transformational leadership. Are we transforming young people’s lives so that when our students graduate from CPA, they’re making a difference?”
Contact Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kreager. Contact Michael Murphy at 615-259-8262 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Murph_TNsports. Contributing: John Bailey, Craig Harris