Johnson City Press Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sports Sports Columns Douglas Fritz High schools

TSSAA football playoffs should be kept simple

June 12th, 2014 8:52 pm by Douglas Fritz

TSSAA football playoffs should be kept simple

Here’s an idea that could solve the TSSAA’s seemingly endless problem with the football playoff system. It’s simple, and nobody could complain at the end of the day.

Every team would be placed in an 11-team district based on location, regardless of enrollment size. There’s your 10-game schedule, and it could be computer generated each year.

The kicker to this plan would be no playoff qualifiers. Teams just play their 10 regular season games and the “postseason” could go something like this:

4At the beginning of each school year, every football-playing school could submit a list of teams they think they could beat in a postseason contest. For example, Science Hill might list Jellico, Rockwood and Red Boiling Springs.

4If Jellico, Rockwood and Red Boiling Springs put Science Hill on their we-can-beat-you list, the Hilltoppers would have to beat all three of those schools to win a state championship.

4If none of those three schools listed Science Hill, the Hilltoppers would have to wait a week for some team across the state to lose a postseason game. Once a team lost in the postseason, it could still win a state championship by challenging an opponent-less team like Science Hill.

4By the first week in December each year, the TSSAA could crown maybe 100 or more state football champions.

What? Absurd you say? Sure it is, but isn’t this the real problem, magnified to show its true meaning?

Everybody wants to win a state football championship, but what does the title mean when so many are handed out? Isn’t the only true state champion one who beats every team in the state?

Last year, eight teams were called “state champions” in football. But could any of them have beaten Class 4A champ Knox Fulton?

Team A doesn’t want to play Team B in the postseason because Team B has 500 more students. Where do you draw the line? Is 100 more students worth a different classification?

In the aforementioned example, matching up Jellico (about 400 students) against Science Hill (over 2,000) would clearly not be a level playing field. But the truth of the matter is it used to be a non-issue.

Way back in the day, high school athletic teams lined up and played regardless of enrollment size. Sure, it was hard to win a state championship in any sport for the smaller schools. But Hampton did it in basketball in 1960.

Yes, football is different. Bodies are needed, and big ones. So when the state clamored for a playoff system, the TSSAA created one in 1969.

Tweaks came shortly thereafter. Soon there were three classifications. But that wasn’t enough, so the TSSAA expanded to five classifications.

That wasn’t enough, so the TSSAA banished the schools who give scholarship aid to their own class (Division II), and there were seven state champions every year. Soon that wasn’t enough, so the TSSAA went to six classifications for Division I.

Who knows if eight state football champions is enough, but the public schools want even less resistance — so they’re pushing to send the private academies into Division II.

If it gets watered down too much, it won’t mean anything. Can’t you just see the 2025 headline: Science Hill wins Class 12A (Group B, Section L) state football title!

Everybody wants to win, but the harder it is to achieve then the accomplishment will be more meaningful.

Besides, pushing the private schools out of the mix won’t fix everything for the public schools. What can public schools do about places like Maryville (i.e. football factory), Knox Farragut (i.e baseball factory) and Team Memphis (i.e basketball factory).

Maybe teams like Maryfootball and Farrabaseball should have their own separate classifications. All of the public schools across the state could chip in $10 apiece every year and buy those guys a really big trophy to put in their burgeoning cases, acknowledging their superiority.

But guess what would happen if Maryville was excluded from football? Another power would likely rise up. Same with Farragut in baseball.

It’s not the system that needs fixing. It’s the attitudes of the schools. One thing for sure about Maryville and Farragut: They use high school athletes. And there are high school athletes in Northeast Tennessee. Maryville and Farragut may have more and they may have better, but the only option is getting better and beating them — if a team wants to win a true state championship.

When talking about football reclassification earlier this week, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress told The Tennessean, “The biggest concern we’ve heard is, ‘We don’t care how far we have to travel, as long as once we get there we can compete. Getting the enrollment figures closer together, that’s the big issue we hear.”

Come on, who is really willing to travel just find a team they can compete with? Let me reconstruct the real voice of the people: “We will drive to Memphis if that’s what it takes to find somebody we know we can beat.” That’s the bottom line.

It comes back to the wimpy cry of: “Let’s create a playoff system that makes the smoothest path to a state title for my school!”

That’s not to say things can’t be made better. The main focus of the TSSAA should be a return to “simple.”

Childress’ plan seems to simplify the playoff system, but also creates a group of 32 teams who don’t have to qualify for the playoffs. In football, that is supremely ridiculous and not fan friendly.

If none of the Class 6A regular season games determine playoff qualification, why would anybody spend money to buy a ticket to a regular season contest?

Most football fans are old school. They see football as earning/denying that extra yard, fighting to get that first down, or muscling into the end zone. They want to see a team earn its way into the playoffs.

A second option is returning to five classifications, a system that was in place from 1993-2008. It was scrapped because teams grew weary of traveling longer distances for league games while missing out on the some of the old-time local rivalries. Now it seems as if everybody is ready to dive back into these further-flung leagues.

But five classes did make the playoffs much more simple to figure out.

“With the way the system is now, it’s kind of hit and miss or wait and see,” said Daniel Boone head coach Jeremy Jenkins. “I kind of liked it when it was the top four up here playing the top four down there. You knew who you were playing.

“But there’s always going to be a debate. We just need to look at all of the possibilities, and see which is the best way to go.”

The TSSAA Board of Control voted to table to playoff discussions until its August meeting. Stay tuned.

Follow Douglas Fritz on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.

comments powered by Disqus