Hardin Valley barely made the playoffs this year with a 5-5 overall record. Friday night their season ended with a first round loss to top-seeded Maryville.
On Monday Hardin Valley may play a part in making Tennessee's high school football playoff future when it hosts a regional TSSAA administrative meeting. An included agenda item Monday is an election for one position on the TSSAA's Board of Control.
The Board of Control is the nine-member board that voted this summer to keep the current maligned format of six state champions for Division I. The vote in July was 5-4 to keep the current system until 2016, with four losing votes preferring a return to the pre-2009 system when there were five Division I playoff champions. One of the five supporting votes was cast by the representative from Chattanooga whose seat is up for election Monday.
Fulton High School athletic director Jody Wright is one of the board members who voted in favor of a return to the old system.
"The main gripe with the current system is the process and implementation of selecting schools and seeding them for playoffs. We have had some problems the last couple of years," said Wright. "Our schools in this area have overwhelmingly supported going back to the five [championship system]."
Wright says the old five-class system painted a clearer playoff picture for coaches and teams.
"If you finished in the top four in your region, you were in the playoffs. If you finish number one in your region, you played number
four in the other region. If you finish number two then you played number three. It
was very concrete."
The drawback to the previous system was it required regular season regions to be comprised of schools of similar size. Some schools were forced to travel great distances during the regular season to play teams of comparable enrollment.
The current system implemented in 2009 changed the way schools qualify for the playoffs. It now relies on a formula using a school's record and schedule for the entire season instead of only the results of region games. Schools can now play in regions with nearby teams of a variety of sizes to cut down on travel time. At the end of the regular season those teams play in different brackets appropriate to their school size.
"It was all based [before 2009] on what you did in the region. Now it's based on overall schedule. That was done to cut down on travel time during the regular season," said Wright. "The problem is now teams are still traveling long distances because they're scheduling weaker teams 200 miles away to make sure they get a win."
The six-champion system means less teams left on the outside looking in come the postseason. The additional championship also generates roughly $100,000 more than the old system for TSSAA. Yet, the executive director of TSSAA recommended a return to the five-class system.
"I know TSSAA gets accused of only being about money, but I think that was proven not to be the case when your director recommends getting rid of the system that makes more revenue," said Wright. "We had all kinds of evidence that said coaches in the state prefer the old system, the TSSAA leadership supported the five [system], and yet the board voted 5-4 to keep the six classification system. It goes against logic, in my mind."
The current guessing game that leaves playoff teams wondering which bracket and seed they will draw could come to an end if the balance of power shifts on the Board of Control. In addition to the election Monday at Hardin Valley, there is another position on the board that has opened up due to the retirement of the West Tennessee representative who voted in favor of the current system. If just one of those positions is filled by a board member in favor of the old five-class format, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress indicated to the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he would be open to rescinding the July vote.
Wright says his main hope is that whatever happens with board members and playoff formats, he wants the attention to remain on the athletes on the field.
"Whether it's a plan you like or you don't like, it's the playoffs. That's the exciting part. This is an awesome time of year to see kids competing and the spirit of all our schools that want to reach the championship game in Cookeville," said Wright.