Catholic High School will remain in Division I when the TSSAA’s new four-year cycle begins in 2017-18.
Catholic headmaster Dickie Sompayrac revealed the move to the News Sentinel on Thursday, citing the TSSAA Board of Control’s decision last July not to adopt the Division II committee’s recommendation for three evenly split classifications as reason for keeping the status quo.
“Had the Board of Control taken the recommendation of the DII committee, we would definitely be going to DII,” Sompayrac said in a statement. “But right now, from an academic and financial standpoint, it simply makes no sense for Knoxville Catholic to move to Division II.”
The news comes ahead of Friday’s deadline for schools in Tennessee to announce intentions to play for Division I or Division II, traditionally comprised of tuition-paying independent schools. The deadline came to the forefront last December, when the TSSAA Legislative Council voted to redefine Division II to include any school offering a “financial assistance program,” including tuition breaks to family members of athletes and work-study programs.
Sompayrac said the school only has “six or seven” athletes receiving work-study aid. Only four of those players come from football, the sport in which Catholic is the defending Class 4A champion. It’s a low number compared to other private schools, making it possible for the Irish to stay in Division I.
The Division II committee drafted a plan in July that would have split Division II football teams evenly over three classifications, but the plan failed by a 7-5 vote before the Board of Control. The board instead adopted a three-class Division II plan that separated schools based on enrollment, forecasting Catholic and nine other football programs to the Division II-AAA large-school division.
The decision would have created an east and west region in the class, forcing Catholic to travel to Chattanooga and Nashville on multiple occasions during the regular season and to Memphis during the postseason. Webb and Christian Academy of Knoxville, which announced its plan to go to Division II last month, were slotted for Division II-AA.
“We would not mind having to play in DII-AAA for the playoffs, but the reality of having no teams in our district under 100 miles away is simply not feasible,” said Sompayrac. “Imagine having to drive to Nashville during the week to play basketball, volleyball or run a cross country meet. At the end of the day, it would be bad for our students and bad for the school.”
Catholic, which only services grades 9-12, currently competes in Class 4A in football and Class AA or A/AA for other major sports. The school, with an enrollment of 620, would have been pegged for the largest of the two classifications for non-football sports (Division II-AA) after the TSSAA set the enrollment dividing line set at 450. Instead, Catholic will wait to see where it falls among other Division I schools when the TSSAA meets to approve the new district alignments for all sports on Nov. 17.
Catholic’s enrollment balloons to 1,124 when factoring in the 1.8 multiplier assessed to independent Division I schools. The number will put the Irish on the cusp of playing in either Class 5A or Class 4A for football moving forward and Class AAA or Class AA for all other sports.
CAK, Concord Christian and First Baptist Academy already have announced plans to move to Division II, and Berean Christian plans to stay in Division I. Grace Christian is the only Division I private school in the area that hasn’t announced its plan.
Chris Thomas covers high school sports. Follow him at twitter.com/christhomaskns.