Not everybody will be traveling a lot less under the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s move last week to reclassify come the 2009-2010 school year.
If current enrollment numbers hold come November, four-time defending Class 2A champion Alcoa could be seeing a lot of highway miles.
The association announced last week it would group all its Division I public schools into three classes — A, AA and AAA — for all sports beginning in ‘09, including cash cow football. At playoff time, public-school football would then morph into six classifications instead of the current five.
Most sports will remain unaffected. Troublesome for the football Tornadoes is the region to which they would be assigned if Class AA numbers remain constant until November, when TSSAA will release its 2009 regional groupings. Alcoa could then be relegated to a six-team region including Loudon, Kingston, Christian Academy of Knoxville, Scott County and Stone Memorial in Crossville.
The Crossville trip every other year, considering the spiraling cost of diesel fuel, is a concern, Tornado coach Gary Rankin said.
“One of the ideas (for reclassification) was to cut down on travel for some teams,” he said, “but it didn’t help us.”
There’s the added concern of so few region games — five — to fill a schedule.
“It will really change things for us,” Rankin said. “It really could.”
The annual clash with rival Maryville will always be a sixth game, but the Tornadoes will need four more to complete a 10-game season. Given Alcoa’s success in recent years, opponents haven’t been easy to find.
The Tornadoes opened the 2007 season at Spring Hill and have twice welcomed Booker T. Washington of Memphis to Goddard Field for a game.
With the change, returning county rivals Heritage and William Blount to the schedule will become a must, Rankin said, something TSSAA hopes reclassification will foster.
“Hopefully, somehow we can get them back on our schedule,” he said.
Reviews are mixed among Blount County’s other gridiron skippers. Heritage coach Tommy Rewis sees both good and bad in the change. The good is the Mountaineers won’t be making the grueling trips to Ooltewah, Soddy-Daisy, Bradley Central and McMinn County for regular season games anymore.
Financially, the games were always a tough sell and cost prohibitive. Last season, the Mountaineers spent close to $4,000 on two late-season trips to Ooltewah and Bradley Central.
“They don’t bring (fans) up here on a two-hour trip,” Rewis said, “and we don’t take anybody down there. Economically, it makes no sense for us to play them.”
For 2009, the Mountaineers will likely stay closer to home for league play and join newly-created Class AAA/6A, if you will, along with county-cousin William Blount and four-time 4A champion Maryville.
“The playoffs are like reading an insurance policy,” Rewis said. “There’s a lot of fine print in there. Some people won’t find out they’ve made the playoffs until that Saturday morning after the 10th game.”
Maryville coach George Quarles, whose Rebels were slated to be promoted to Class 5A under the current system, thinks the change could prove a good one.
“I kind of like it to be honest,” Quarles said. “From the travel side of it, I’m really excited.”
Had the old system remained, Maryville would also have been making the long drives to Chattanooga each season along with the Governors and Mountaineers.
“You can ask William Blount and Heritage how much fun that is,” Quarles said, “and how hard it is to make money.”
The Rebels will likely add Oak Ridge to their schedule with the new system, Quarles said. Overall, he said, the change could help area schools both in terms of building rivalries and financial gain.
“You’ve got a chance to have some really good gates and some good home crowds,” Quarles said.
Maryville assistant principal Lynn Brown, a member of the TSSAA’s Board of Control, voted in favor of the change. The former coach was looking out for more than the Rebels with the move.
“For William Blount and Heritage to go to Chattanooga for a regular season game just isn’t good,” Brown said. “For one trip to Chattanooga, you can play five of your road games now.”
Brown said the board is aware of the plight that potentially confronts small schools like Alcoa. The association hopes to address them over the summer.
“We’ve got some concerns in AA,” Brown said. “We’ve always had concerns with AA because of the size of the schools. AAA won’t change much. We’re going to have to work on AA.”
The board’s vote to reclassify was, by some margin, “the toughest decision we’ve had to make,” Brown said. His one regret is the addition of a sixth public school football champion.
“The only thing that bothered me is we had to create another classification,” Brown said. “I think we have too many as it is.”
First-year William Blount coach Richie Wilhite is hopeful the change proves the right one. Like Rankin, Wilhite has concerns over scheduling during the regular season. Until the new regions are announced, no one knows for sure just where they’re going, he said.
Financially, however, the change can only be viewed as a plus for the Governors.
The money William Blount will save on travel could be substantial. The Governors spent close to $600 in fuel alone on two trips to the Chattanooga area last season.
“Who knows? It may be double this year,” Wilhite said. “That could be a huge expense.”
Cutting significantly into the cost can only be viewed as a positive, he added.
“That is a definite plus for us,” Wilhite said.