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TSSAA adopts new football playoff format

Andy Reed areed@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:58 PM

Let the counting begin.

The TSSAA’s Board of Control voted unanimously Monday to adopt a new football playoff system for next year giving the teams from the state’s largest 32 schools automatic entry into the postseason.

Those 32 teams would play for the Class 6A championship. Classes 1-5, comprised of the remaining 273 schools separated equally, would each consist of eight regions with the top four finishers in each advancing to the playoffs, identical to the format used from 1994-2008.

The new format will be used during the 2015 and ’16 seasons.

Next up, the TSSAA will gather enrollment figures from each member school for the 20th day of the new school year. Schools will have the option to play up. With the new 32-team 6A, that could cause the low-end members of 6A to fall to 5A if any school moves up if the “bumped” school would agree to it. Normally, a school which moves up is simply added to the higher classification with no residual bump of another school.

When the classifications are finalized, schools will then be placed into regions. The 6A class will likely be divided into four eight-team regions with the regular season used for seeding purposes.

As far as Wilson County is concerned, Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Wilson Central will have to wait and see if they make the top 32. In the 2012 enrollment figures used to set up the present classes, Mt. Juliet was the 18th largest school in the state. Wilson Central just made the cut at No. 32 while Lebanon was No. 36.

“I really don’t know that much about it,” Central coach Brad Dedman said Monday. “We’ve played around and looked at some things.

“I’d have to look at the district we would be in and go from that. I don’t know if it would be in our best interest to be one of the biggest 5A schools or be one of the smallest in the top 32.”

Mt. Juliet’s Trey Perry doesn’t think this decision will be the cure-all for high school football.

“I think it’s a band-aid,” Perry said. “I don’t know why this has been pushed through… The choice was between this and the current plan. Neither of the plans address the issues that needed to be focused on.”

Being in the top 32 would mean being in the playoffs, even with an 0-10 record.

“No matter what, I think you need to earn your way into the playoffs,” Dedman said. “Going 0-10, I don’t think it’s very nice to make the playoffs.”

“That takes away from the prestige of the playoffs,” Perry said. “That takes away from those who earned the right to go to the TSSAA playoffs. I don’t see any honor in that.”

Perry preferred the system used from ’94-’08.

“It brings back more competition and the state championship means more when there are five classes [instead of six],” Perry said.

“I wouldn’t want to have a team 0-10 going to the playoffs, and in another district a 6-4 team is staying home,” said Lebanon’s Sam Harp, a seven-time Kentucky state champion before moving to Tennessee last year.

Harp wasn’t aware of the vote when contacted by The Democrat on Monday night. But he said regardless of the decision, someone wasn’t going to be happy.

“I’ve been on those committees and no matter how you figure it, there are always glitches in it and there are going to be when you’re dealing with 300 different schools with different enrollments,” Harp said. “I’m still trying to feel my way around here.

“I hope we’re not in those top 32.”

Perry said he would do his best to preserve the Golden Bears’ rivalries with Lebanon and Central should the schools, now rivals in District 9-AAA, be separated.

“The first two calls I’m going to make will be to Lebanon and Wilson Central,” Perry said in regards to filling the three non-region dates.

On the lower end of the scale, Watertown has long played in a district/region with area rivals Gordonsville and Trousdale County. Gordonsville is 1A in the playoffs while Watertown and Trousdale are 2A. But all three are in District 8-A. It remains to be seen how the new regions will shake out. One thing that will be different is those playoffs will also be 32-team affairs instead of the 24 now in 1A and 2A.

Friendship Christian moved to Division II, where Mt. Juliet Christian has long resided, a year ago. That division is unaffected by Monday’s vote.

Since 2009, football teams had been playing a three-class regular season in districts identical to the ones used for basketball, baseball and softball before branching out into six classes for the playoffs. Thus, two teams from the same regular season district could win a state championship. That did happen in District 8-A in 2011 when Gordonsville won the 1A title and league rival Friendship took the 2A crown.

But the system, adapted to reduce travel during the regular season and maintain rivalries for all sports, was roundly criticized by coaches as too confusing for its use of wild cards, which took into account all games, not just those with district rivals. Powerhouse teams complained they couldn’t get games with schools who were looking for easier opponents to qualify for the playoffs. In addition, teams in the odd-numbered playoff classes had to play, and beat, district rivals who were in the larger even-number playoff classes to qualify for the postseason.

TSSAA officials said the newly-adopted system will reduce the enrollment disparity within classes. Teams will also know by the end of the season, and often before, what they need to do to get in the playoffs and who they will play. With the wild card system, teams had to watch a playoff selection show the Saturday morning after the regular-season finale to see if they got in, much like the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

But mistakes were made practically every year in determining wild card teams. Two years ago, Cleveland was announced as having made the playoffs before it was discovered a team from Kingsport should have been included instead, bumping the Blue Raiders out.

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