BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
SPORTS EDITOR EMERITUS
It's a big state.
A few weeks ago the wife and I had the grand idea of traveling all across the state on U.S. Highway 70 on our venture to meet some relatives in Arkansas. I've never been much for interstate travel, because it takes more of my attention to make sure I'm out of the way of a trucker in a hurry to get his load delivered on time than to enjoy the scenery.
So, we exited Interstate 40 at Crab Orchard, and except for a brief time in getting back on the big highway to traverse through Nashville, we stayed on the back roads all the way across northwest Tennessee to the Mississippi River.
It was the time of year that God had used his paintbrush to change all the greenery to an assortment of colors, and it was a great ride as I passed through some towns that I had heard about for years; towns that had provided teams to state athletic tournaments that I had covered over the past several decades. Towns such as Baxter, Hollow Rock Bruceton, Dresden, Milan, and the list goes on and on.
When the TSSAA gets together every year at their headquarters in Hermitage to set the brackets for the playoffs, one can appreciate their task even more when considering the length of the state of Tennessee and the number of teams involved.
With the exception of the controversy involving Sullivan South of Kingsport, the pairings apparently went pretty well this year as the TSSAA set up their four quadrants across the state in six separate classifications of public schools. A complicated seeding process is used to set the brackets.
Sullivan South, despite a 5-5 record, was initially left off the playoff list, but after further review, it was decided the Rebels did, in fact, qualify for the Class 5A playoffs. Unfortunately, eight teams had already been placed in Quadrant 1, so Sullivan South was relegated to Quadrant 2 as a No. 8 seed. The TSSAA staff figured that by the time the error was noted, brackets had already been announced and coaches were already in the process of exchanging films and preparing for an opponent. Thus Sullivan South got the short end of the stick this year.
That means that South must travel to No. 1 seed Columbia Central tonight for a first round game. That's five hours away from home. If they should win, they'll have to go back in that direction next week, either to Tullahoma or White County.
In interviews with area media this week, Coach Sam Haynie indicated that the Rebels would be playing with a chip on their shoulder this week. The school's understandably not real happy with the way things transpired.
What caused the confusion was a game that the Rebels played against Enka, N.C., a team that finished with a 5-6 season record. But a seldom used TSSAA rule says that if an opponent plays 11 games, the 11th game will not count toward seeding purposes. Thus South got some points in the complicated seeding process for beating a team that did not have a losing record.
In a visit to TSSAA for a meeting this week, I got the feeling that filling out those brackets is not a cut-and-dried process that the staff really looks forward to.
In traveling those rural back roads of West Tennessee last month, I found that there were very few large communities. Most of the schools in that area are of the Class A and Class AA varieties. Thus, it's not uncommon for Class 4A, Class 5A and Class 6A teams from the mid-state to be paired up against some West Tennessee squads, so there is a lot of travel involved.
Personally, I wish the TSSAA would have returned to the old format of the top four teams in each district moving to the playoffs, but the Board of Control voted early this year to keep the classes at six for football. Of course there were some 3-7 teams, or worse, qualifying for the post-season under that format, but a few of those are still getting in now under the current process.
That's mainly because one of the first things used for qualifying is finishing one or two in your district, and some teams with losing records are doing that in small districts (i.e., Wayne Co., 4-6, McEwen, 3-7 in Class 1A, and Booker T. Washington, 3-7) in Class 2A).
The Board of Control has tried to tweak the selection process every year that the six classifications have been used, and I'm sure there will be more after this season. But considering the confusing setup, the TSSAA does a good job of getting this thing done.
While the TSSAA admitted the mistake in omitting Sullivan South this year, don't blame them entirely. After all, the Board of Control went against the wishes of Bernard Childress and the TSSAA staff, who recommended against continuing the six classification system last spring, mainly because it's so confusing.
Now, we start the road to Cookeville and the state championships tonight. Three of our local teams are involved, including two-time defending state champ Greeneville in Class 4A. The road is tougher for the Devils this year. They played at home as a No. 1 seed last year, but this season they are a No. 3 seed. That means after a home game tonight against No. 6 seed Gibbs, the Devils, if they win, must hit the road, probably to Knox Fulton, seeded No. 2, unless No. 7 Carter pulls off a massive upset.
West Greene and Chuckey-Doak must both play on the road for a first round contest in Class 3A. The Knights, seeded No. 5, must go to No. 4 seed Gatlinburg-Pittman, while the Buffs, seeded No. 6, travel to Blue Ridge Conference foe Cumberland Gap, the No. 3 seed.
All games tonight start at 7 p.m., 30 minutes earlier than the regular season games. Cloudland's game against Midway tonight has been moved to Saturday night due to the big snowstorm that hit the mountains earlier this week.