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Commentary: Prep Play-offs Part 3: The answer

I’m still railing inside over the release three weeks ago of the play-off brackets for an unbelievable eight state championships. Last week, we explained a few of the reasons how we got to this point. This week, we’ll explain how to fix this mess.
Really? You believed that?  If I could the fix the Tennessee play-off system that easily, I’d tackle cancer next.
Few things are certain in life, but I have found a few when it comes to the way the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association picks schools for inclusion in the playoffs in Division I.
First, there are no coaches who truly like the current system in place—at least none of the coaches I’ve spoken to inside and outside of Williamson County. Granted, this is not based on some statistically compliant formula. It doesn’t even include every county coach,but the responses universally started with negative thoughts about at least part, if not all, of the system.
Secondly, there is a strong general consensus that when there are 16 steps to determining inclusion, we have found a plan that is way too complicated.  Especially when strength of schedule and games outside of a team’s district are more important than district wins, a move that prevents teams from scheduling strong out- of-district games in the regular season. You just can’t take the chance of losing an out-of-district contest schedule so lightly.
The best option is to return to a five-classification system with eight regions, and the top four teams in each region, based on regional record, make the playoffs.  You know where you are going and you know whom you have to beat to get there; you’re not waiting to see if some out-of-state team is going to suffer a loss.
The TSSAA staff gets it, but they are bound by the direction the Board of Control tells them to go. The staff has nearly begged over the last two years to return to a five-classification system. That proposal has been shot down every time.
I am not sure why the five-class system is so opposed. There was great simplicity to the program. It made it easy to set brackets and most schools knew pretty well the path they would have to travel to a championship.
If the current plan isn’t working and the five-class plan doesn’t work, I have a couple of options for the Board of Control to consider.
First, drop two classifications in Division I and eliminate Division II. Combine all the teams and create four classifications— eight regions in each—and then play the game. You wind up with four schools with titles instead of eight, and 128 teams (40.4%) have a shot at the championship. After all, with the current eight classifications nearly 60 percent of all schools with football programs make the playoffs. In Division II-AA, it’s 100 percent. After eleven weeks of play, more than 50 percent of the teams are still in the hunt? That is just too many.
Really? You believed that? 
No one will ever again approve a plan that has public-private schools playing each other, and more importantly, we will never see a plan that could have the top classification with school enrollments ranging from 950 to 2,300.
The only other “fair” system I can imagine is to copy the Division II-AA model—to an extent. Just eliminate the last two weeks of the regular season, and let every team in every classification play for a title.
Simple.  Clean. Easy to understand.
You believed that?
Joe Williams is Sports Editor for the Herald and can be contacted at

Posted on: 11/21/2013


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