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Commentary: TSSAA falls victim to own success

 Quick-what does the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association and “Obamacare” have in common?

On Saturday morning – a non-working web site.
After eleven weeks of football across eight divisions, the TSSAA’s version of March Madness bracket release turned into an embarrassing, frustrating debacle.
Part of the problem is the success the TSSAA has had in renewing interest in high school football in the state.  The newness of pro sports has worn off, some college teams are struggling and “community” is now a buzzword again.
Add in the fact that almost two-thirds of the football playing schools will get to compete for one of eight state championships, and you have all the ingredients for problems.
That success helped create the second part of the problem-having the association’s technology capabilities overwhelmed.  Not only did the internet broadcast crash, but so did the server with the brackets.  Some got through, others didn’t.
Unlike the government healthcare site, the TSSAA got things fixed in pretty short order, but the glitch in delivery exacerbates past issues since the organization’s Board of Control adopted the “Z-plan” several years ago.  
The plan, modeled after one used by Virginia high schools, includes a 16-step qualifying list, making it almost impossible to figure out who made the play-offs and who didn’t. One positive change did guarantee teams that finished first or second in their district spot, the only guaranteed spots.
The “Z-plan” worked so well for Virginia that they dropped it like a hot potato the year Tennessee adopted it.
The current plan has plenty of critics, from coaches to fans and the media.  But so did the old plan.  At least under the previous plan, a team knew exactly what had to be done to make the play-offs and exactly where they would play the next week.  That’s not the case in the current plan, which sometimes creates embarrassing and unfortunate results.
A couple of years ago, after announcing the brackets, the TSSAA had to go back and tell a team they were not in and tell another one not to pack up the equipment.  Massaging the brackets to make it work was a travel nightmare.  In fairness, 300 teams, 1,500+ games, 16-steps to qualify, 199 schools qualifying…you do the math.  One issue is not a bad record.
But this system does create other issues.
The glaring example this year is an opening game in Class 3A where Lipscomb Academy will have to travel to East Nashville Friday night.  Lipscomb made that same trip last Friday night, losing 35-14.  The Mustangs open against not only a district member, but their last opponent.
You need look no further than our neighbor to the east, Rutherford County, to find some truly frustrated individuals. Recognized as the toughest district in the state (some call it “the SEC of Tennessee football”), Smyrna starts against Blackman, while two others from the district, Oakland and Siegel, are in the upper bracket of the quad.  That group includes three of the top ten ranked teams in the state.  For those four, just making the semi-finals will be like going through the district schedule. Again.
The fact that nearly two-thirds of the football playing schools get to the play-offs should be concerning.  More than I have said just give every team a golden ball before the season starts and just play.
The staff on Lebanon Road gets it. On more than one occasion they have presented plans calling for a change for a more structured plan.  Each time, the B.O.C. has rejected the call for reform that would stop the watering down of the prestige of a state football championship.
Why?  That’s a four-decade old story for next week.
Joe Williams is Sports Editor and can be reached at

Posted on: 11/7/2013


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