By Maurice Patton
New classes. Same concerns.
As the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association adapted a four-classification system for Division I basketball, baseball and softball for the 2021-22 and ’22-23 school years during Monday’s Board of Control meeting, the format suddenly didn’t seem to be the remedy to disparity that many had expected.
With the state’s high school programs divided evenly into four tiers, based on 20-day enrollment figures for the current school year, the smallest Class 4A school will – still – be half the size of the largest.
Parity within the classes, particularly the largest, was the issue among many coaches with the three-tiered system that was initially adapted for those sports in 1976.
Though the enrollment figures for the upcoming classification period are not yet available, numbers from the 2018 report would put the breakpoint between Class 3A and 4A at roughly 1,160 – approximately 1,600 students fewer than Collierville, which in 2018 had the state’s largest enrollment at 2,766.
“I think it’d still be a concern for those schools at the lower end of (Class 4A),” said Pat Swallows, executive director of the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association. “I don’t know if there’s anyway to fix it.”
In addition to a four-class plan dividing Division I programs evenly, a ‘hybrid’ plan that would take a predetermined number of teams to 4A and a similar number to 1A, with the rest evenly divided for 2A and 3A, was considered by the Board but ultimately voted down.
“We knew that gap was still going to be there,” TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. “Right now, the bottom of (Class) 3A is 1,034. Going four classes, unless there’s a hybrid model that looks different, you’re not helping.
“When we started talking about hybrid, I just stopped talking, everybody (on the board) was shaking their heads so hard. We haven’t fixed the problem at the top, but the positive is we are doing four classes, we’re doing it for two years, maybe we can take another look then.”
The new format likely leaves both Spring Hill – barely (2018 enrollment 1,162) – and Columbia Central (1,358 in 2018) in the state’s largest class.
“Literally 15 or 20 schools is all it’s going to affect, depending on what the cutoff is,” Central boys basketball coach Nick Campbell said. “We’re going to be a ‘small’ 4A, from what I can tell.”
Along with the move to four classes, the Board opted to continue bringing four teams to the state tournament in those three sports – a “best of both worlds” scenario to both Swallows and Basketball Coaches Association of Tennessee executive director Bruce Slatten.
“I think everybody was a little – I don’t want to say shocked, but – shocked that it actually happened,” Spring Hill baseball coach Paul Lamm said. “Not the four classes, but I think every (coaches) association expected that if it did go four classes, it would definitely only be four teams to the state tournament.
“I think it was a really pleasant surprise that they decided to keep those eight teams, and rightfully so. They did what needed to be done.”
For Division I football, the decision was to continue to compete in six classes, while volleyball, soccer and track will remain in three classes divided evenly among on participating programs. Cross country will compete in A/AA and AAA, based on a school’s classification for track. Golf, tennis and wrestling will compete in two classes, with participating programs divided evenly. There will be one class for bowling.
Classification formats for Division II saw no changes. Football will continue in three classes, with all other sports maintaining the same number of classes for 2021-23 as currently.
Districts and regions for the 2021-23 classification period will be set by the state office and approved by the Board of Control later this fall.
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.