Narrowing the football playoff choices down to two in June, the board decided to postpone a decision until they could get input from the schools across the state.
Sequatchie County principal Tommy Layne, the representative for the southeast Tennessee area on the board, held a meeting at Red Bank High School right after the June board meeting to discuss the options with the area administrators and coaches.
The two options on the table are to either keep the current “Z-plan” format that has been used the last three years, or revert back to the setup used for the 15 years prior to 2009.
Currently, the Division I football playing schools are divided three enrollment-based classifications and are grouped in “district” with other schools in their general area for regular season play. However, when it comes time for the post-season playoffs, each classification (A, AA, AAA) is subdivided, leaving six (1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A, 6A) divisions, with each playing its own championship tournament.
Under the old system, teams were divided into five classifications for both the regular season and playoffs, with some “regions” covering more than a 100-mile area.
With so many complaints about playing against teams in the regular season so far away, plus teams with losing records making the playoffs, the TSSAA changed its football format three years ago.
Several options to revamp the current system, which has had flaws and complaints as well, were discussed at the June meetings, but the two options came to the forefront.
The advantage of the current “Z-plan” is playing regular season games against teams that are in the school’s same districts in the other major sports — basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball.
The closer proximity of the opponents, means less travel expenses, plus better “gate” receipts. Better attendance at games, translates into more money for the home team’s athletic programs.
“For me the biggest thing is the better atmosphere on Friday nights,” declared Bradley Central head coach Damon Floyd. “Being able to play teams where we know the coaches and the players know each other, as well as the fans, is much more exciting than playing teams that are two hours away.”
“We have some great rivalries in this area. If we go back to the old system, we may not get to play some of those games,” the Bear mentor added. “There are going to be pluses and minuses in any system, but to me being able to keep our regular season games exciting for our fans is important.”
Based on the current enrollment numbers, should the board vote to revert to the old system, Bradley Central and Walker Valley would be placed in Class 5A, Region 3 along with McMinn County and Soddy-Daisy, plus four schools — Coffee County, Lincoln County, Warren County and Franklin County — that are west of Monteagle Mountain and in the Central Time Zone.
The other three current District 5-AAA squads — Cleveland High, Rhea County and Ooltewah — would be in Class 4A, Region 4 along with East Hamilton, Chattanooga Central, Sequoyah and White County (which is also more than 100 miles away and in the Central Time Zone).
“Not only are you talking about increased expenses because of having four teams that far away, but our fans get excited when we play longtime rivals like Cleveland, Ooltewah and Rhea County,” expressed Floyd. “I don’t know if we would be able to keep playing those teams if we go back to the old system.”
While Floyd prefers the setup to stay the same, new Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan sees a benefit in returning to the “region” setup.
“I have mixed feelings,” proclaimed Ryan, who was the head coach at Soddy-Daisy under the old format. “I like a true classification, where you play in a region with teams that will be making the same playoffs as you, instead of a district where we would play several teams that are going to be separated into a different class come the playoffs.”
Reverting to the old five-class system would mean the top four teams in each region would advance to the playoffs, under which one of the biggest complaints was the large number of teams that made the post-season with losing records.
The main knock coaches have against the current playoff system is not knowing who they are going to be facing in the opening round of the playoffs until the day after the final regular season game is played.
Currently the district winners and runnerups automatically advance to the playoffs but the rest of the 32-team playoff brackets (24 in 1A and 2A) are made up of “wildcard” teams, determined by a 16-point criteria.
Since the “Z-plan” then divides the state into four, eight-team geographical regions based on what teams have qualified, the pairings and sites for the opening round playoff games can’t be determined until after all regular season games are played.
“If it were just up to me, I would vote to keep things as they are," board member Layne is on record stating. "From a principal's standpoint, there is less travel involved for the schools right now.”
Should the Board of Control vote to stay with the current system, District 5-AAA will more than likely be adding a new member with East Hamilton expected to bring the number of district teams to eight.
While a decision is expected to be made Monday, the schools won’t officially be placed in their district or regions for 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 school years until the fall enrollment numbers are submitted for a November meeting.