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TSSAA may turn teams loose to find football opponents

Douglas Fritz • Jul 7, 2020 at 1:30 PM

Hidden behind the scenes in the TSSAA’s late-start plan for football is a quandary that fits this currently chaotic world.

If the TSSAA Board of Control selects Option No. 1 or No. 2 during Wednesday’s special called meeting, it could produce a Wild West scenario of teams scrambling to secure non-region games that benefit their programs financially.

Under each of those options — two of four being offered — the TSSAA will set region schedules for all schools. Option 1 (a seven-game regular season) would have Region 1 teams in classes 6A, 5A and 4A searching for one non-region game with smaller schools needing more. Option 2 would have the larger schools seeking two non-region contests.

A shortened schedule, weighted down with sometimes poorly attended region games, won’t be helpful in filling the financial reserve tanks football uses to help fund other sports throughout the school year. Therefore, non-region games would be at an extreme premium in 2020.

Schools have the second year of two-year contracts in place heading into the 2020 season. But with potentially four weeks of the season wiped off the books, those documents would likely become shredder fodder.

“My assumption would be all bets are off,” said Sullivan South coach Justin Hilton. “I don’t see how you honor one contract and not another. It will be like the Wild West with people getting the best (opponent) they can get.”

The TSSAA acknowledged the potential for a free-for-all situation. Assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie said Monday schools would set their own non-region games on a first-come, first-served basis.

Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said finding football opponents in this manner is not good.

“It puts people in a bad situation and brings out the worst in them,” Carter said. “I don’t want to be in that situation. Scheduling games is awful. It ends up being like a game of ‘Survivor.’ ”

Scheduling may seem simple, but the process is fraught with potential pitfalls. For example, under Option 1, logic would say Science Hill rushes out and grabs Elizabethton for one of its non-region games. But this year’s game is supposed to be played at Elizabethton — which means $0 for Science Hill’s program. And what if the Hilltoppers could get David Crockett to play at Tipton Stadium and split the gate? Would that push Elizabethton to offer a split gate with Science Hill?

Keep in mind, the Science Hill-Elizabethton rivalry is a big moneymaker for the home team. The Hilltoppers reaped the 2019 benefits for its athletic budget, and the Cyclones would want to do the same this year.

And there is another part of the revenue game that could be unbalanced, said Cyclones coach Shawn Witten.

“In our case, we might play Science Hill at half-stadium capacity this year,” Witten said. “And then next year it’s back at Science Hill at full capacity again.”

That would leave Elizabethton on the short end of the three-year stick.

If Elizabethton couldn’t get Science Hill to play at Citizens Bank Stadium this season, who could the defending Class 4A champions — with a loaded team returning — get?

“Everybody is trying to get games they think are winnable,” Hilton said.

Witten said his team’s search would also be hampered by travel limitations.

“You definitely don’t want to travel far this year,” he said.

Daniel Boone athletic director Danny Good said finding non-region home games could be tough for certain programs.

“I’m sure people aren’t waiting in line to play Elizabethton,” Good said. “I wouldn’t think Shawn Witten’s phone is ringing off the hook. Same thing for Greeneville, Dobyns-Bennett and others.”

And if Science Hill jumped ship on the two-year contract with Elizabethton this year, would that endanger the rivalry in the future?

Under Option 2, with two non-region games, the pressure would lessen to some degree. But what if Science Hill could get Greeneville and David Crockett to both play at Tipton Stadium? Would the Hilltoppers want to travel to Elizabethton for a no-money game?

You can apply the Science Hill-Elizabethton situation to other rivalries across Northeast Tennessee.


Would the TSSAA designate that teams must play one home game and one away game under Option 2? That seems unlikely.

Keep in mind Science Hill’s currently scheduled home region games — subject to change by TSSAA schedule makers — are Hardin Valley, Farragut and Dobyns-Bennett. The D-B game is a big-time moneymaker, but what if the TSSAA moved that game to Kingsport and slapped the Hilltoppers with Morristown West at home?

In that scenario, Science Hill would almost be forced to drop Elizabethton and seek as big of a home money game as it could find in the non-region ranks.

Good said Daniel Boone’s current schedule of home region games — Morristown East, Cocke County and Cherokee — would be a financial blow without a big-money game somewhere else on the schedule.

“We would not make enough money to offset the cost of operating a football season,” Good said.

But Good added that the athletic program could handle it for one year.

“We’ve been blessed to have a little bit of a cushion built up,” he said. “The kids will have what they need for the 2020-21 calendar year. After that, any reserve would be gone.

“But some programs are not that fortunate. Those are the ones you hurt for.”


One suggestion by Hilton makes sense. He said teams might need to seek non-region games amongst their region opponents. Under Option 2, South could play Sullivan Central and Sullivan East twice each, perhaps splitting both of the gates.

Rivals D-B and Science Hill could play twice. Same deal for Crockett and Boone. Only the TSSAA-designated region game would count for playoff seeding purposes.

“A lot of teams would want to do this,” Hilton said. “Many region games can be moneymakers, and it would eliminate all of this hot grab for who gets the best non-region game.”

Carter said finding games closer to home seems to make the most sense.

“It should be a mandated distance,” he said.


Option 3 — which cancels Weeks 1 and 2 and moves 3 and 4 to the end of the season — would hurt schools with rivalry games originally set for Week 1, like Science Hill and Elizabethton.

Also on the Week 1 slate are such potential money games as South at Boone, D-B at Tennessee High and Central at Sullivan North.


Greeneville chose 13-year veteran assistant Eddie Spradlen to take over its football program.

The position came open in June when Dan Hammonds resigned after one year in the program’s top spot. Hammonds’ team went 10-3, losing to eventual state champion Elizabethton in the quarterfinals.

Greeneville won four state titles under Caine Ballard, who resigned prior to the 2019 season.

Contact Douglas Fritz via email at [email protected]

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