July 31, 2015
The Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s Legislative Council earlier this month voted down a controversial proposal that would have put the athletic programs of all private schools, whether they offer financial aid or not, into Division II, where the three Catholic high schools in Middle Tennessee compete.
At the same meeting, the Council adopted a proposal from Father Ryan High School Athletic Director Pat Lawson to expand the membership of the Council and the Board of Control to include three representatives of independent schools on each.
“I was appreciative of the Board and the Council’s willingness to see that there was a lack of representation for the private schools,” Lawson said of the vote. “It showed a willingness to move forward and bring people from all schools to the table for discussion.”
Currently, all the members of the Board of Control and Legislative Council, who are elected from nine districts across the state, are employees of public schools or schools systems.
TSSAA Assistant Executive Director Matthew Gillespie noted that the change “certainly was, many would say, long overdue. Just due to numbers, the way it was set up, it was very difficult for independent or private schools to have any representation, and therefore you haven’t seen any in many years.”
Both the Board and Council will grow to 12 members each with three representatives of independent schools, one elected from each of the Grand Divisions of the state: East, Middle and West. The independent representatives can come from schools that compete in Division I or II.
Under the TSSAA’s bylaws, the members of the Board of Control and Legislative Council must be full-time principals, superintendents or an assistant principal who devotes full time to administrative duties. The Board of Control is the administrative authority of the TSSAA overseeing the work of the staff. The Legislative Council is the legislative body of the organization voting on changes to its constitution and bylaws.
The vote of the new members of both bodies will be in November and they will begin their terms in December.
With 12 members on each body, the possibility of a 6-6 tie vote exists. But Gillespie said a proposal would fail on a tie vote. “A 6-6 vote is just not going to pass something, just like a 5-7 vote wouldn’t pass something,” Gillespie said. “So you’re going to have to have a majority, whether you have odd or even numbers, in order to pass something.”
Added Gillespie: “We certainly look forward to working with those representatives when they get elected in November, and begin serving their terms on the Board and Council. It will certainly be a different look and feel to both of those governing bodies, but certainly something we’re looking forward to dealing with.”
The highlight of the Legislative Council’s July 16 meeting was the vote on the proposal for a complete public-private split, which had generated more than a year of heated debate.
Currently, private schools can compete in Division I with public schools if they don’t offer financial aid. Representatives from Lewis and Trousdale counties proposed a complete split, arguing the private schools in Division I had an advantage over small and rural schools because they can draw athletes from a broader geographic region.
The proposal would have forced 24 private schools competing in Division I, including Nashville area private schools Christ Presbyterian Academy, Goodpasture, Lipscomb Academy and Nashville Christian School, as well as Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga and Knoxville Catholic High School in Knoxville, to move to Division II.
Most of the private schools that would have been forced to move to Division II are smaller than Father Ryan High School and Pope John Paul II High School, which compete in the large school AA classification of Division II.
However, the move could have more directly affected St. Cecilia Academy, which competes in the small school A classification, by increasing the number of schools it would have competed against.
In the end, the proposal failed on a 4-5 vote.
“Prior to the vote, (TSSAA’s staff) were constantly asked, ‘What do you think is going to happen?’ And I think all of us had the same answer – ‘We just really did not know,” said Gillespie. “So after the fact, we were asked, ‘Were you surprised at the vote or the outcome?’ Honestly, no, because I don’t think we would have been surprised with any outcome. We just really didn’t have a feel, one way or the other, on what direction (the council) would go.”
While the proposal to split was voted down, Gillespie explained that the Council did vote to have the TSSAA staff look into language in the by-laws that would address several concerns of council members, including whether work-study is considered financial aid, as well as tuition reduction for siblings of student-athletes.
Any changes would only impact private schools in Division I who cannot offer financial aid. Schools in Division II already offer financial aid and thus would sit unaffected should any change occur.