The Commercial Appeal

Pros, cons of having 4 classes

- Cecil Joyce

Paul Kamikawa wasn’t a fan when the TSSAA added a fourth class in Division I for Tennessee high school public school basketball programs two years ago.

Nearing the completion of two basketball seasons of the four-class experiment, the Rockwood boys coach hasn’t changed his opinion on the TSSAA Board of Control’s decision.

“I’m still against it,” said Kamikawa, who has nearly 600 wins. “I believe it’s watered down basketball in the state of Tennessee. It should have stayed at three (classes). We’ve got too many districts (and) we’ve got too many teams playing in four- and five-team districts.”

The TSSAA Board of Control voted in August to extend four classes for two more school years, meaning it wouldn’t change again until after 2024-2025 school year. The four-class format has mixed reviews from statewide coaches. Baseball and softball also have four classes.

Some basketball coaches, like Kamikawa, believe things should have never changed, while others have embraced the added class. Some even want more classifica­tions.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Rossview boys coach Johnny Jackson, who has more than 400 career wins. “I think the selfish part of me was like, football has six, then four is surely good enough for basketball.

“I really liked it when it first came out. I do not (like it now). It’s too hard to schedule with only eight games in the district, which makes us have to find 16 non-district games. Also being matched up with a sectional team that is a four-hour bus trip is not conducive for the team traveling.”

The positive, though, is an added classifica­tion means schools with more similar enrollment­s are competing against each other instead of those with large disparitie­s in enrollment size.

“You know, I don’t have a problem with it,” Cordova coach Terrance Scales said. “Considerin­g when it was just three classes, you would have some

schools that would be 3A that has 2,800 kids in comparison to someone who may have 1,300 kids. It made sense to go to four classes.”

But is four classes enough? Some think no. If the TSSAA wants to add more state championsh­ips, why stop at four?

“I’d like to see it be at five (classes),” said longtime Coalfield girls coach Ronnie Wilson, whose school has an enrollment of 170. “I think it should have been five 20 years ago. It’s got to do with student population­s. We’re always on the low end of things.”

Every school has been affected differentl­y when it comes to four classifica­tions. Community boys basketball coach Robbie Davis sees the good and bad, but his team benefitted greatly from the switch.

“We’re in a unique situation,” Davis said. “In the three-class system, we got moved from being one the largest 1A school to being one of the smallest 2A schools, and we had to compete against teams like Nolensvill­e, who were twice our size. Going to four classes, it put us back to where we’re more familiar and got some of our old rivals back.”

The case for basketball being watered down

The biggest impact of increasing the number of classes was the size of districts. In some areas, eight-team districts were basically split in half or near half. That has left many districts with just four or five teams. In the TSSAA playoff format, the top four teams from each district tournament advance to the region tournament in Division I.

The postseason format already allows teams the opportunit­y to lose as many as three times in the TSSAA playoffs and still advance. Teams can lose in the district semifinals, district championsh­ip or consolatio­n game and lose in the region championsh­ip and still advance to the next round of the postseason.

For example, Davis’ Vikings squad, which is 1-24, is automatica­lly guaranteed a region berth because of being in a four-team district. Barring an upset in the district tournament, it would likely face the state’s top-ranked 2A team in unbeaten East Nashville in a region quarterfin­al.

In the 2022 playoffs, there were 18 boys region quarterfin­al games decided by more than 40 points, including four by more than 50 and one by 60 (a Class 2A contest). In 2021 during the final year of three classes, there were only six decided by more than 40, with the biggest a Class A blowout by 58 points.

There was little difference in girls play, however. In 22, there were 22 region quarterfin­al games decided by more than 40 points, including nine by more than 50 and five by more than 60. The biggest blowout was by73 points in two games. In 21, there were 23 decided by more than 40, eight of those by more than 50, four by more than 60. The most lopsided being a Class A region quarterfin­al by 80 points.

Still, coaches’ opinions vary on the subject of watered-down districts.

“I think it depends on who you talk to,” Fayette-ware boys coach Demarius Chearis said. “I don’t think it’s watered down. I think it’s different. A lot of people aren’t comfortabl­e with things that are different. You’re going to have to prepare your teams whether it’s three classes or four classes.”

Maybe so, but the 2022 postseason showed several lopsided scores to indicate in some parts of the state it may be watered down.

“I think you end up with a lot of watered down leagues,” said Bartlett girls coach Wes Shappley. “It leads to more lopsided scores, more disadvanta­ged teams. To me, the competitio­n level has changed quite a bit.”

That doesn’t meant there aren’t abnormalit­ies. In District 7-3A girls, which includes Livingston Academy, Upperman and White County — where all three were ranked in the Associated Press statewide poll this season — the competitio­n level is as good as ever.

Would different postseason format work?

Davis believes the problem isn’t with four classes, but with how many teams advance.

“Having every team go to the region (from a four-team district) is something I don’t like about it,” said Davis, who is also the school’s baseball coach, where only two teams advance from each district. “I wish we would change the postseason format. That part would solve a lot of issues.”

Rockvale girls coach Bill Hockenberr­y has his own idea on how a postseason change could help combat the issues with four classes. Hockenberr­y’s 19-win squad is part of a sectional that includes five ranked teams and another that has 18 wins and reached the 4A state last season.

“It’s time to start doing something similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, having a statewide bracket come out,” Hockenberr­y said. “It would be exciting for the kids and the fans, to see new matchups in the region quarterfin­als or semifinals, instead of playing the same team for the third or fourth time.

“(Having several talented teams in the same sectional) is great, and its why I enjoy coaching in this area and league (7-4A), there’s going to be five really good teams sitting at home (during state).”

Extensive road trips a major concern

Hockenberr­y’s plan would equate to more TSSAA playoff travel. And that’s something that is already a concern to some.

Travel for region tournament­s has actually gotten easier in larger classifica­tions, thanks to many regions now being former district setups. There are, however, smaller classifica­tions where teams have traveled farther in the region and will do so in the next two-year cycle.

Summit girls coach John Wild is currently in a five-team district and a region that includes opponents in close proximity. Next season the Spartans will be in an eight-team district with all Williamson County schools and a region that includes southern Middle Tennessee teams.

However, as the next president of the Tennessee Basketball Coaches Associatio­n, travel for other teams across the state is a concern to him.

“The travel for region tournament­s is off the charts,” Wild said. “Lawrence County to the (Cumberland County) plateau, Martin Westview to Lyles and Shelbyvill­e to Bradley Central (in Cleveland) are all possible scenarios and is a nightmare for region quarterfin­al games on a Friday evening after being in class all day. That’s really hard.”

Jackson’s Rossview squad from Clarksvill­e and its district and region foes used to play sectional games against Nashville-area teams. Now it travels to the Memphis area.

Here to stay?

Love it or hate it, there will be two more years of four-classifica­tion basketball in Division I, and it may be something that never changes.

Coaches who haven’t been in favor may change their minds before the TSSAA Board of Control votes on the next cycle, but most are likely set in their opinions.

“They’re not going to (go back to three classes), because I think it’s an added source of income,” said Kamikawa. “More schools get the opportunit­y to go (to state), so I don’t think it’ll go backwards.”

“I don’t think it was broke,” Wild said. “I don’t understand why we tried to fix it. “

 ?? WADE PAYNE PHOTO ?? Summit girls basketball coach John Wild is concerned with added postseason travel that has come with four classes.
WADE PAYNE PHOTO Summit girls basketball coach John Wild is concerned with added postseason travel that has come with four classes.
 ?? AMY SMOTHERMAN/USA TODAY NETWORK ?? Rockwood boys basketball coach Paul Kamikawa is not in favor of the TSSAA’S current four-class basketball system for public schools in Tennessee.
AMY SMOTHERMAN/USA TODAY NETWORK Rockwood boys basketball coach Paul Kamikawa is not in favor of the TSSAA’S current four-class basketball system for public schools in Tennessee.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States