Districts and regions for high school competition

Saturday, September 29, 2007

In less than two years, TSSAA will again be faced with the awesome chore of placing schools into districts and regions for high school competition. It's a process that takes place every four years and stirs the ire of all schools, both large and small.

School administrators, coaches and fans are often unhappy with the results of the process. They'll find fault with some aspect of the new groupings. With some, it's the classification they've been placed in. With others, it's the regional alignment. Rarely is anyone completely satisfied.

For smaller schools, things rarely change. Enrollment numbers shift so slightly at 1A and 2A schools that regional alignments remain fairly constant.

That's not the same case in areas like Rutherford and Williamson Counties where growth is strong and rapid. The continuing population explosion in these areas forces local government officials to build new schools and shift zoning lines all too often. School budgets often force officials in smaller areas to close schools and consider consolidation.

These shifts in population cause nightmares when officials at TSSAA begin the process of realignment and reclassification. As a result, these decision makers must become more creative when it comes to the entire scheduling process.

Although coaches and administrators often feel their options become more limited each year, the scheduling of games is still pretty much a local issue. About the only stipulation TSSAA officials request is that regional football games be played on even numbered weekends of the season.

Coaches in other states don't have the same freedoms. In Iowa, for example, officials in the state office have been scheduling all regular season district games in football for several years. Local coaches are handed their district schedule well in advance of the start of the season. Until now, they've had the opportunity to schedule their own non-district games.

But beginning next year, the Iowa state office will schedule all games, whether they are district games or not. Schools can submit to the state office a priority list of non-district opponents they would like to face but state officials are under no obligation to honor such requests. They'll do so only if it's a convenient issue.

The process has some merit. Schools that are in close proximity to each other that have, for one reason or another, not been meeting on the gridiron, would likely be pitted against each other under such a plan. New rivalries with nearby schools would also be created.

The countless number of hours spent by coaches trying to get a full 10-game schedule suddenly becomes someone else's problem. Schools would simply be forced to play the hand they've been dealt.

Taking the responsibility of scheduling away from the teams has worked in the NFL as well. Teams at this level have little say so in their scheduling. Their complete 16-week worksheet is prepared by someone else. Colleges, too, generally have no say in determining which conference opponents they will face on any given weekend. Setting non-league games, however, is still the prerogative of college administrators.

Such a plan is probably several years away for Tennessee prep coaches. But options like letting someone else prepare an athletic schedule may not be as bitter a pill to swallow as coaches and administrators might think it would be.

Murphy Fair has published Tennessee High School Football for the past 20 years. His website (murphyfair.com) gives high school fans further insight into the prep fo