After a half dozen years of continual complaints, the TSSAA has reverted to its old football playoff system with a new twist that could have some very serious financial ramifications for one local team.
The Z Plan, the state's first six-class plan that began in 2009, will be no longer. After one member switched his no vote, the TSSAA Board of Control unanimously passed the new “Super 6” playoff proposal Monday in Hermitage.
The new plan puts the 32 largest schools in the state into a classification by themselves. The teams will be divided into four, eight-team regions, with each team automatically qualifying for the playoffs.
The remaining 273 football-playing schools will return to the system last used in 2008, when they were divided into five classes based on enrollment totals. They'll then be divided into eight regions for each class, with the top four teams in each region earning a spot in a 32-team playoff bracket.
While this plan will help quiet most of the grumbling caused by the current system’s uncertainty and confusion, one local school team could find itself alone on a remote island when the region alignments are made.
Bradley Central was the 34th largest school in the state with 1,664 students when the last enrollment numbers were provided to the TSSAA two years ago. Its student body has swelled to more than 1,800, which will probably push it into the “Super 32.”
“At 1,800, I’d be shocked if we weren’t in the ‘Super 32,’” declared Bradley athletic director Turner Jackson Monday evening. “I know there has been a lot of growth in the Murfreesboro schools, but most of them (six) were already over 2,000 students. The new Stewart’s Creek school had 1,630 students when it opened last year.
“My understanding is teams will be allowed to move out of the ‘Super 32’ if someone else wants to move in,” he added. “So far, the only team I’ve heard that might possibly move up is Maryville.”
The problem being in the largest class creates for the football Bears is there are no other “Super 32” teams in Southeast Tennessee. More than likely Bradley would be placed in the same region with a combination of teams like Maryville, William Blount, Science Hill (Johnson City), Dobyns-Bennett (Kingsport), Sevier County, Jefferson County and Knoxville schools Farragut, Bearden and Hardin Valley.
The nearest region to the northwest would possibly include the Cookeville, Warren County and Murfreesboro “Murderer’s Row.”
“It would kill us financially,” proclaimed Bear head coach Damon Floyd. “The expense of having to make those long trips, combined with the severe decline in gate (ticket sales) for our home games, will be devastating. Teams from that far away won’t bring many fans, plus we’ll have to rent tour buses instead of taking school buses on those three-hour drives. We’d also have to pull the players out of school on Friday’s about noon, plus feed them on the way up and back on those three-hour (one way) trips.”
“We don’t mind the competition, because we are already playing in one of the toughest districts in the state, but the financial hit would be tremendous,” the veteran coach commented.
Last season Bradley’s longest road trip for a game was less than 25 miles, to Hixson. Under the possible realignment, the new region scenario would put the Bears’ closest game in Farragut, which is 70 miles away, and the farthest (Science Hill or Dobyns-Bennett) almost 200.
Both Jackson and Floyd also pointed out another “fly in the ointment” would be the possible loss of annual rivalry games against teams such as Cleveland High, Walker Valley, McMinn County and Polk County.
“We don’t know under this system if we’d be able to work out the available dates to play them,” Floyd remarked. “We don’t want to lose any of those games, but you just don’t know if they are going to be available the same dates you are.
“Personally, overall, I like the (playoff) plan with the ‘Super 32,’ but I don’t want to give up the great district we’re in now,” commented Jackson. “There is a whole lot more interest when we are playing the schools around here than if we’re playing Knoxville teams. We used to be in a region with Blount, Heritage, Farragut and Oak Ridge. Other than the Oak Ridge game, there wasn’t much interest.
“We won’t know anything for sure until the (enrollment) numbers are turned in and we see if we are in the ‘Super 32’ or not,” Jackson cautioned. “We can’t do anything but speculate right now.”
The new TSSAA plan may not only affect Bradley, but Cleveland, Walker Valley and Polk County could all find themselves in new regions as well, depending on how the enrollment numbers shake out. The Raiders and Mustangs will more than likely both be in Class 5A, but the Wildcats could move from 3A to 2A.
Schools will turn in their current enrollment numbers to the state on Sept. 20 and the TSSAA will use those figures for dividing the teams into the classes and regions in November.
Although the Board of Control made is vote Monday, the TSSAA Legislative Council is still considering a complete separation of public and private schools, which could throw a whole new spin on the region composition.