If you play basketball, baseball or softball, fret not. The TSSAA has your back.
Same goes for football, soccer and wrestling.
But if the sport of choice is cross country, golf, tennis, or track and field — and the competitor is at a mid-sized school — the TSSAA didn’t throw that student- athlete a table scrap at its recent Board of Control reclassification meeting.
Not even a crumb.
(Disclaimer: As one who thinks there are too many classifications, and state championships are therefore watered down, do not take this column as an endorsement of the current setup. But the point is this: If most sports need extra room to flex their Murfreesboro muscles, all sports should have it. Why is the TSSAA thumbing its collective nose at four sports?)
Here’s how the landscape will look, beginning with the 2021-22 school year and running through 2022-23:
Football — 6 classes
Baseball — 4 classes
Basketball — 4 classes
Soccer — 3 classes
Softball — 4 classes
Volleyball — 3 classes
Wrestling — 2 classes (AAA and A-AA)
Golf, cross country, track, tennis — 2 classes (Large and Small)
Bowling and girls wrestling are not in need of a different classification structure because those sports do not have participation numbers to warrant it at this time.
Last week’s reclassification procedure was a boon for basketball, baseball and softball. Those sports went from three classifications to four. There will be 32 teams in Murfreesboro for the state basketball tournaments, and also for the Spring Fling, in both 2022 and 2023.
Picture me shaking my head. Or picture a downtown Christmas parade, but instead of candy they are tossing out state tournament berths.
Now let’s look at golfers from Sullivan South, Sullivan East, Sullivan Central, Elizabethton or Unicoi County. Want to get to the state? No problem. Just beat Science Hill or Dobyns-Bennett. And the first step is an unwieldy 11-team district.
Using 2018 figures, Unicoi County has an enrollment of 784. It must compete against Science Hill’s massive 2,281 enrollment and Dobyns-Bennett’s population of 2,268. Unicoi has roughly one-third the enrollment of those schools. So for every decent golfer walking the halls at Unicoi County, Science Hill and D-B would conceivably have three. And the top four scores count in every team competition.
What about cross country? Sullivan South and its 828 students get to run the course with perennial state-meet threats like the Hilltoppers and Indians. It’s still a 3-to-1 deficit, and the top five scores count in team competition.
Tennis anyone? Elizabethton can sort through 851 students to find enough players to fill six slots in singles against the every-year domination of powerhouses D-B, Science Hill and Tennessee High.
And then there is track and field. It’s the same comparison. But also consider what awaits if, for example, a female discus thrower from Elizabethton or Sullivan South qualifies for The Boro. Not only do Science Hill and D-B stand in the way, there’s Collierville (2,766), Bartlett (2,722), Blackman (2,411) and Oakland (2,285).
Now take all of the aforementioned information, and consider what these mid-sized school athletes had prior to the 2017-18 reclassification. They were in the smaller group of a AAA and AA-A setup. They actually had a chance to not only get to The Boro, but to do a little we-got-the-beat dance step once they were there. But that was taken away.
The old setup seemed more fair. Class A-sized schools in those sports competed against mid-sized schools far better than Class AA-level schools have done against the giant-campus powers. Need proof? University High’s girls won five straight Class A-AA state championships in cross country from 2005-2009.
But the bottom line to the scenario is this: The TSSAA took care of three sports last week by expanding classification for two years. It did nothing for four other sports — not even rotating back to the more equitable AAA/A-AA setup.
TSSAA Board of Control member Jody Wright said this: “Those sports are always difficult to classify due to the fact that not all schools offer those sports. As with any classification, it is good for some schools and to some schools not as good. That is true for any plan I have ever seen.”
Wright’s last two sentences make a valid point. The current setup opens the door for state championships for smaller schools in those sports. That’s not a bad thing.
But the TSSAA should not try to create goat-trail paths to state titles for some sports while making student-athletes in other sports go straight up the mountain.