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Z-plan set for football; Morgan reacts

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By The Staff

By BRIAN LANGLEY

Morgan County News

TSSAA has come up with a new plan to try and make things cost-effective and more competitive among football schools across the state.

The Z-plan was accepted with a 5-4 vote among the nine member of the TSSAA's Board of Control last Wednesday. The plan will be in effect for the 2009-13 school years and the exact classifications and districts will be announced in November after the enrollment numbers are retrieved after 20 days into the 2008 fall semester.

With the high cost of gas, the Z-plan was an easier sell than it was back in 2004 when it was shot down. The Z-plan calls for three classes in regular season for all sports, with each of the three classes being split into two separate classes during the football playoffs. That would allow for six classes to compete for a state championship. It will allow schools to play in a district during the regular season against schools a lot closer to cut down on travel.

"I think its great for our school and it obviously helps with fuel," offered Sunbright head coach Johnny Harrison.

With the current enrollment numbers, all four Morgan County teams would be in the same district along with Oneida for the regular season. However, Wartburg and Oneida would then bump up to Class AA for the playoffs. This would mean that all county teams would renew their rivalries with each other.

Morgan County coaches agree that it will raise interest in the local rivalries and be good money games to help fund their programs.

"I'm looking forward to getting to play all the county teams in the district. It is going to be good for us and it is going to be good for Morgan County football," said Wartburg head coach Dan Shoemaker.

"I like playing all the county teams and renewing the rivalries. It will be good gate money for all four county schools," said Oakdale head coach Chip Strickland.

"I came from the old Sequatchie Valley conference and it was huge rivalry games every week. That is the way it will be with the Morgan County teams," explained Harrison, who played at Bledsoe County during his high school days.

With Coalfield, Oakdale and Sunbright left to compete in Class A, the district champion among the three teams would get an automatic bid as one of the 24 playoff teams. Meaning that the county rivalries would mean even more.

"It gives us a chance, especially playoff time. It also gives us a chance to schedule some teams our size. As far as the playoffs, if you win you're in and if not you're not," said Harrison.

Wartburg, which has competed in one of the toughest Class AA regions in the state since 1993, gets some relief with Alcoa, CAK, Loudon and Sweetwater appearing to make the jump up to Class AAA.

"Its going to be different. We're leaving folks like Alcoa, Loudon, Sweetwater and CAK. I like the fact that we're going to be bringing back traditional rivalries. We should have been doing this all along," said Shoemaker.

"It looks like we're going to finally get a break."

The current Region 2-A (Coalfield, Greenback, Harriman, Midway, Oakdale, Oneida and Sunbright) will get a new look under the new plan. Greenback, Harriman and Midway will move to another district, while Oneida will move to Class AA.

"A positive is we don't have to play Midway, Greenback and Harriman. Basically, we have two games (Coalfield and Sunbright) to get into the playoffs," said Strickland.

After the teams play their regular season schedule and the three classes break off into six classes for playoffs, the playoff scenarios get a little complicated. For instance, if Coalfield, Oakdale and Sunbright make up a Class A district, then there would be one automatic bid for the champion, but the other two teams could still get in as a wild card based on TSSAA tiebreakers. If Wartburg and Oneida were the only two teams in their Class AA district, then they would get one automatic bid and the other team could still make the playoffs as a wildcard.

"The playoff has got me confused," Shoemaker stated.

With tiebreakers to be considered to earn wildcards, the scheduling process will be much more calculated and selective.

"With all the tie-breakers that you will have to get into the playoffs, us and Sunbright will be getting our doors knocked down to play other teams, while none of the Class A teams will want to play Coalfield, because of their strong tradition. Coalfield has more of a raw deal than anybody on non-region games. I'm going to call and schedule people that are comparable to us. I have no choice but to schedule easy," said Strickland.

"Our approach to scheduling non-region games will be to find local schools and that will help the gate big time. It will be a job scheduling six non-region games," said Harrison.

In Class 6A, 5A, 4A and 3A, there will be four quadrants with 8 teams each to make up 32 playoff teams in each class. However, with fewer Class 2A and Class 1A teams, there will be four quadrants with 6 teams each, meaning that the top two seeds in each quadrant would get a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

"There is no one in football that should get a round off in the playoffs. The three things that gets me is it allows them to get healthy; they get to watch you play the week before; and then you get to go to their place. What chance do you really have? This is football, not slow-pitch softball. Its not a level playing field," offered Strickland.

"You might as well put lamb across my head, because we're going to be sacrificial."

There are projected to be about 83 football-playing schools in Class A under a three-class system, warranting a split into two playoff brackets. Executive Director Ronnie Carter said Class A would not split if the number of football schools dropped to 70. That would leave five Division I playoff brackets and mean that the 1A and 2A teams under the six-class breakdown would stay combined making it the largest class in terms of number of teams. This would make things a lot tougher for the smaller schools to compete come playoff time.

"I don't like the fact that they might keep it five classes and lump all 1 and 2A teams together for what I will call a superclass. 1A is going to be left out," said Strickland.

"I hope it stays six classes. It gives the small schools an opportunity to compete for a state championship. When I saw this plan I was like hallelujah. Its good to be a football coach at a small school again," said Harrison.

The board also voted 6-3 in favor to continue the use of the 1.8 multiplier rule, which is applied to the enrollments of Division 1 private schools in figuring classification.

"They need to just pull all the private schools and christian schools out. Its not a level playing field and it is just not fair," explained Harrison.

The Z-Plan mapped out

1. All schools play everyone in their district (AAA, AA, A).

2. Each class is divided in half by enrollment. AAA is divided into 6A/5A; AA into 4A/3A; A into 2A/1A. This will place approximately 55-65 schools in each football classification. If the number of football schools in Class A is less than 70, then the Board would determine whether Class A would be divided for playoffs or remain as one class. Using present enrollments, we would have 83 football-playing schools in Class A.

3. In 6A, 5A, 4A, and 3A, 32 teams would qualify for the playoffs. In 2A and 1A 24 teams would qualify for the playoffs. This difference is due to the fact that there would be 41-42 schools in 2A and 1A each, with 58-62 schools in the other 4 classifications.

4. Teams would qualify for the playoffs in the following manner: a. 12 of the teams in each group (6A, 5A,) in each district are automatic qualifiers (Example: 4 teams - 2 automatic qualifiers; 6 teams - 3 automatic qualifiers; 3 teams - 1 automatic qualifier; 1 team - 0 automatic qualifiers) b. Teams finishing 1st or 2nd in the district are automatic qualifiers c. Wild cards - Based on TSSAA tiebreakers.

5. In 6A, there is the rare possibility that you have 25 automatic qualifiers. Districts 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 16 where there is 1 qualifier and another 6A team could finish 2nd. If this occurred in all 8 districts, you would have 33 qualifiers. In the unlikely event that this would happen, you would apply the tiebreaker criteria to those 8 teams to determine the 7 qualifiers to complete the 32-team bracket.

6. The 32 teams are then placed geographically in 4 quadrants with 8 teams in each quadrant in 6A, 5A, 4A, and 3A. In 2A and 1A there are 6 in each quadrant with the top 2 seeds drawing a bye in the first round.

7. The eight teams (6 in 2A and 1A) are placed in the bracket so that no teams from the same district play each other in the first round except when there are 5 or more teams from the same district. Placements are then done with priorities given to automatic qualifiers based on their district finish followed by Wild Cards. There may be times where teams have to be placed other than their order of district finish to avoid teams from the same district meeting in the first round.

8. The team with the higher seed will host throughout the first three rounds. In the semifinals, the top team in the bracket will host in odd years and the team in the bottom bracket will host in even years. (Exceptions: If the two teams are from the same district, the higher finishing team in district standings shall host.)

For football those three classes are divided into six classes for the playoffs.

Here's how schools would be aligned beginning in 2009 using current enrollment figures. Realignment will be done officially using fall enrollment figures:

CLASS A

District 1: 1A - Cloudland, University School-Johnson City*; 2A - Unaka, North Greene, Hampton

District 2: 1A - Clinch*, J. Frank White*, Washburn*, Hancock Co., Jellico; 2A - Cosby

District 3: 1A - Knoxville Chr.*, Tenn. School Blind*, Greenback, Midway, Grace Chr., Harriman; 2A - Rockwood, Oliver Springs

District 4: 1A - Sunbright, Oakdale, Coalfield; 2A - Oneida, Wartburg

District 5: 1A - 21st Century*, David Brainerd, Copper Basin, Tenn. Temple*, Grace Baptist; 2A - Silverdale, Tellico Plains, East Brainerd

District 6: 1A - Richard Hardy*, Sale Creek*, S. Pittsburg, Lookout Valley, Van Buren Co.*, Whitwell; 2A - CSAS*, Marion Co.

District 7: 1A - Pickett Co., Red Boiling Springs, Clarkrange*, Clay Co., Monterey; 2A - Upperman

District 8: 1A - Merrol Hyde*, Mt. Juliet Chr., Gordonsville; 2A - Watertown, Friendship, Trousdale Co.

District 9: 1A - Boyd Chr.*, Middle Tenn. Chr., Eagleville; 2A - Community, Cascade, FRA, Forrest, Ezell-Harding

District 10: 1A - Jo Byrns, Clarksville Acad., Nashville Chr., McEwen; 2A - White House-Heritage, Houston Co., East Robertson

District 11: 1A - Santa Fe*, Huntland, Culleoka*, Moore Co., Columbia Acad., Cornersville; 2A - Mt. Pleasant, Richland

District 12: 1A - Frank Hughes*, Hampshire*, Zion Chr., Perry Co., Collinwood, Wayne Co.; 2A - Summertown*

District 13: 1A - Carroll Acad.*, Big Sandy*, Clarksburg*, Hollow Rock-Bruceton, West Carroll; 2A - Huntingdon, McKenzie, Decatur Co.

District 14: 1A - Bradford*, Gleason, Greenfield, Lake Co., S. Fulton; 2A - Dresden, Halls, Union City

District 15: 1A - No teams; 2A - Adamsville, Fayette Acad., Humboldt, Madison*, Middleton, Peabody, Scotts Hill, Trinity

District 16: 1A - City Univ. School*, Hollis F. Price*, MAHS*, MASE*, Memphis Middle College*; 2A - Douglass, Treadwell, Westwood

*Does not play football

"It will be interesting to see how it will all shape up after the new districts are announced. We're going to compete wherever we are put," said Shoemaker.