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Commentary: Prep Football-Part Two: How many championships can there be?

As the second week of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association play-offs open tomorrow night, 112 teams are still in contention for one of eight state titles. It wasn’t that long ago that only three golden balls were handed out.  
How did we get to eight? 
We got there because public school athletics hate private school athletics and vice versa. A decades-old peace fell apart in the late 1990’s and only got worse after Brentwood Academy was charged with violating the TSSAA rule on recruiting.  Following sanctions by the governing body, BA filed a federal suit that drug on for a decade, costing both sides millions in legal fees and exasperating the mistrust between the sides on a macro basis.
The number of private schools in the state, and particularly Middle Tennessee, exploded in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, about the time the Federal Court system mandated the use of forced busing for the integration of public schools and less than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court declared prayer in public schools unconstitutional. Many of those schools became very successful, very quickly, creating friction between public and private schools.
Originally, sports writers from across the state named only one school to be state football champion. By 1969 a state championship play-off system was developed using a three-classification system (A-AA-AAA). Public schools and independent schools all competed under the banner of the TSSAA.
To placate a growing group of schools, both public and private, the TSSAA went to five classes in 1993 under the common sense approach that more divisions gave public schools more chances to win.  
In 1995 and 1996 three of the five titles were won by private schools. In 1997, private schools offering financial aid were split into Division II, with a “big” division and a “small” division. Division I kept five classes, including some private schools not offering financial aid to athletes. Those schools, however, were saddled with a multiplier increasing their enrollment for classification purposes.
While the issue of private recruiting is the obvious answer to the watered down championships of today, it ignores the dirty little secret that no one wants to admit.  Public schools recruit.  Athletes.  Just not in the same way.
I just lost a bunch of friends and contacts, but only if the truth hurts.
Like private schools, not all (or many on either side, in my opinion) do it the wrong way or for the wrong reason. But sometimes, it happens for the wrong reasons on both sides of the battle. And how? Special classes not offered at every school, “open zoning” and bogus changes of address are all open for abuse.
The bottom line is we have eight championships due to a lack of integrity by some, a lack of trust by others and the inability by most to get over it.
What an example we are setting: If we can’t win a state title because we think the system is unfair, let’s change the rules so we can all win a state title. 
Kind of reminds me of race car drivers who when asked how they finished, can answer “top five” and “dead last” and both are correct.
Next week in Part 3:  How do we fix this mess?
Joe Williams is the Williamson Herald Sports Editor and can be reached at

Posted on: 11/14/2013


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