TSSAA unanimously approves playoff overhaul
After years of fighting and squabbling with the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association over the football playoff system, high school coaches across the state of Tennessee are rejoicing after a unanimous vote Monday afternoon to overhaul the oft confusing postseason and return to a simplified system next year.
The high school football playoff system will get another facelift for the 2015-16 season after the TSSAA Board of Control decided to scrap the current “Z” Plan.
Under the new Super 6 format as it has been dubbed, Class 6A will consist of the 32 largest public schools in the state, with each team automatically making the playoffs at the end of the regular season regardless of record.
The remaining schools will be split into five equal sized groups, forming the new Class 1A through Class 5A. Their playoffs would revert back to the old region system, with the top four teams in the eight regions of each class qualifying for the playoffs.
The format of seeding the playoffs based on number of overall wins will go away with the new system, with the schools finishing order in their region determining their seed in the opening three rounds of the playoffs. In addition, a team finishing first in their region will be guaranteed two home playoff games and upwards of three before going to the semifinal round.
“I think the TSSAA made a really good decision,” Morristown West coach Lamar Brown said. “Whenever you go by the enrollment figures and try to group the teams as closely as you can by those numbers, it is a good thing.”
Any team not in the top 32 in enrollment that wishes to play in Class 6A can petition to do so, with the smallest school listed in Class 6A being given the option to play in Class 5A. If that team refuses to move down, the TSSAA will move up the list until a team is willing to move and make way for the petitioning team.
Maryville High School is likely to be a team looking to play up in classification. Based on enrollment numbers from the 2013-14 school year, Maryville would be a Class 5A team, but Rebels coach George Quarles said Monday afternoon his team would petition to play up if they are indeed a Class 5A team when the new regions are announced in November.
Morristown East coach Dewayne Wells was surprised the vote was unanimous, but he was approaching the new system with optimism.
“I’m happy about the decision, but it did catch me a little off guard that it was a unanimous vote,” Wells said. “It’s my understanding that they will look at the public/private split in December, and I don’t know how that could affect these new regions or if it will at all.
“But we will play the cards we are dealt no matter what. I like the fact that this shows you what games are the most important for playoff positioning, and it puts the emphasis back on region games.”
Brown said the decision will also make it easier to put together a 10-game schedule than it has been in the current system. Teams like Alcoa have resorted to playing two games in three days just to fill their schedule, as they have a hard time finding opponents due to the need to win as many games as possible to get into the postseason.
With this new system putting the premium on winning region games, Brown believes he will have an easier time finding five and possibly six out of conference games than finding three non-region games in the current system.
“This new system will make it much easier to put together a schedule, even if we are trying to find 5 or 6 non-region games,” Brown said. “Currently, it’s hard for good football teams to find 2 or 3 non-district games because the premium is set on winning all your games to get into the playoffs and improve your seed.
“I don’t know why we even had a district system to begin with in this format if your non-league games meant just as much as the district games did. Now no one has to worry about scheduling bigger schools because the playoff system is based on how you do in your region.”
Jefferson County coach Kenny Cobble will see his Patriots stay in Class 6A when the new regions are announced, and they will pick up some old rivalries they had nearly a decade ago with Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett. He also wants to hold on to the traditional rivalries as well to balance out his schedule and prepare his team for an automatic berth in the postseason.
“We know we will be in the playoffs every year in the new system, but we want to give our kids confidence and also prepare them with a tough schedule to be successful in the postseason,” Cobble said. “We will have some really tough games in our region based on what we have seen so far, and we want to keep some of our older rivalries going as well. But this also gives us an opportunity to play one of the heavy hitters in the state to give us a look at where we stack up once the postseason arrives.”
Grainger coach Chad Tate believes the TSSAA decision is one that is beneficial to the coaches in preparing for postseason play, and he likes the return to a simplified playoff system.
“I really like what they have done,” Tate said. “It’s something that you will see more and more coaches jumping on board with because it simplifies the playoff system. Now you know what you have to do to make the playoffs, and that clears up a lot of the confusion the other system had. There are still a lot of unknowns, like what the regions will look like, but it appears to be a better and fairer system.”
Based on the enrollment figures from last year, the Lakeway Area teams could have drastically new looks in their regions in 2015. These regions are for football only, and these prospective leagues are subject to change based on petitions to move up in class, new enrollment figures from 2014-15 school year and other outside factors including geography and regional rivalries.
Despite the fact both the Inter Mountain Conference and Blue Ridge Conference will no longer be together in football regions, the teams have expressed an interest in keeping their longstanding rivalries intact moving forward.
“We want to play as many of our rivals from the original IMAC that we can,” Brown said. “Obviously we want to play Jefferson County because that is a big game for both of us, and we would like to keep Cherokee as well. Those are rivalries we feel like need to continue.”
Here is a look at the possible new region configurations, based on geography and enrollment figures, for the nine Lakeway Area schools. The new regions will not be official until the TSSAA releases them in November.
Region 1-6A – Jefferson County, Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett, Sevier County, Science Hill, Hardin Valley, Bearden, Farragut, William Blount.
Region 1-5A – Morristown East, Morristown West, Cocke County, Daniel Boone, David Crockett.
Region 1-4A – Grainger, Cherokee, Sullivan South, Sullivan East, Sullivan Central, Tennessee High, Volunteer.
Region 2-3A – Claiborne, York Institute, CAK, Gatlinburg-Pittman, Kingston, Loudon, Pigeon Forge, Scott.
Region 1-2A – Cosby, Cumberland Gap, Hampton, Happy Valley, South Greene, Sullivan North.
Region 1-1A – Hancock County, Cloudland, North Greene, Unaka.
-By Matt Daniels, Tribune Sports Editor