TSSAA approves public-private split starting in 2019-20 school year
A total public-private split was unanimously approved Thursday by the TSSAA's Legislative Council — 21 years after the Tennessee high school athletic association created a separate division for schools that offer need-based financial aid.
The proposal, which was submitted by Harding Academy, a Memphis-based private school that participates in Division II, goes into effect during the 2019-20 school year. That coincides with the midway mark of the current four-year classification plan and comes after the second year of two-year high school football game contracts.
"I think it levels the playing field," said Harding Academy athletic director Kevin Starks, who is a Legislative Council member. "I think the independent schools can do things that public schools can't do.
"I think with the exception of all (schools) being back together, which seems unlikely to happen again, I think it's right for independent schools to be together and public and charter schools to be together."
Both public and private schools are permitted to play each other in the regular season, but would be split in postseason play.
The rule essentially affects nine schools after three private schools — Columbia Academy, Grace Christian Academy in Franklin and Knoxville Catholic — ask and were approved to go to Division II starting with the 2019-20 school year.
The majority of private schools competing in Division I chose to go to DII beginning this school year when the TSSAA instituted a financial assistance program that coincided with a need-based financial aid policy. The financial assistance program will cease starting with the 2019-20 school year due to the approved split.
"It's been a work in progress for 20 years," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "I think it is (easier to do it now).
Private schools affected by the decision include Berean Christian School in Knoxville, Christ Legacy Academy in Athens, Dayspring Academy in Greenbrier, Fairview Christian Academy in Athens, Natchez Trace Youth Academy in Waverly, and Trinity Christian Academy in Jackson.
Of those six, only Trinity Christian and Berean Christian have won a TSSAA state team championship.
"I think it’s a good opportunity for the TSSAA to move forward and put this decades of questioning and perception of independent schools and the advantage they have to be put to rest and move forward," Trinity Christian athletic director Ken Northcut said.
Currently three public schools — Knowledge Academies in Nashville, Carroll Academy in Huntingdon and Memphis Rise Academy — compete in Division II.
Former Berean volleyball coach Cory Felts, who is now an assistant at Maryville College, said the Council's decision didn't surprise him.
"From a competitive standpoint, I’m not sure why there was such a fervor over private schools playing in the same division," Felts said. "For a school like Webb, that does offer scholarships, it makes sense to be in a different division.
"For the overall private schools, especially a small one like Berean I’m not sure how it’s much different from open zone in some of these schools."
Reach Tom Kreager at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8089 and on Twitter @Kreager.