Board of Control members expect a close vote today when they decide Tennessee's high school football playoff format for the 2013-16 seasons, but most aren't saying what they'll choose.
The Tennessean attempted to contact each of the nine Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Board of Control members.
Of the seven who responded, only Lewis County's Bryan True, who favors a return to the five-class system, would reveal his preference. But even True said he will listen to what is said today before making a final decision.
The board is expected to choose between continuing with the current three-classification system for all sports that splits each of those in half for the football postseason or returning to the five-classification system for football only that was used from 1993-2008.
The three-classification system reduces travel for many schools, and the five-classification format offers a clearer playoff formula with the top four teams in each region qualifying.
True believes it's unfair for teams in odd-numbered classes to play larger schools from even-numbered classes in their districts. Overall wins and where a team finishes in the district help determine whether it makes the playoffs.
"My (3A) school has to play five 4A schools whereas some other schools that are around us play one 4A school," True said. "So it's a whole lot easier for them to get to the playoffs than it is for us. But with Tennessee being such an elongated state it's hard to ever fix everything."
Board member Steve Chauncy of Hillwood said he would listen to the discussion today before making a decision.
"I think it's split," Chauncy said. "Some of (board members) want the clear playoff picture, and others want to reduce the amount of travel."
The board was scheduled to vote on reclassification in June, but it was tabled for one month. That gave board members more time to talk to the coaches and administrators in their region.
"I think it's a toss-up," board member Jerry Mathis of Tullahoma said. "That's the reason everybody needed to put it off and discuss it, to see what people in our region's feelings were. It's going to affect a lot of people having to re-do their schedules."
A statewide survey conducted last fall by The Tennessean indicated that 60 percent of Division I's 302 football coaches favored a five-class format.
A TSSAA survey of Division I administrators conducted earlier this year showed 49.8 percent of 221 respondents supporting the current system with 48 percent favoring a return to five classes.
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said the state association will offer a recommendation if the board requests one but declined to disclose any specifics.
"Whichever way the board tells us to go, we'll do it," Childress said.
Board member Ike White of Westwood said travel isn't a big issue for the Memphis schools.
"I don't think there's much travel for us because there are so many schools in Memphis," White said. "I'm undecided. We haven't gotten a lot of complaints about the (three-classification) system other than a large percentage of the single-A schools are in the playoffs automatically."
Board member Tommy Layne of Sequatchie County said travel is a big concern in the Chattanooga area.
"Going back to five classifications here where we are in southeast Tennessee is not good," Layne said.
Layne pointed out that in the tentative five-class regions presented at the June meeting, Copper Basin and Moore County were placed in the same region -- a round-trip of more than 300 miles.
"We also deal with the time-zone change," Layne said. "I met with all my coaches, and most of them want to stay with the (three) classifications."
Board member Jody Wright of Fulton is predicting a 5-4 vote but isn't sure which way it will go.
"I didn't talk to a single football coach in East Tennessee that liked the (current) format," Wright said. "I think everybody liked the regular season, but when it becomes the playoffs nobody likes it. Coaches that had good teams were having to drive an hour and two to find games because nobody wants to play them, and the coaches that didn't have good teams were driving an hour to two to ... get wins to get in the playoffs."
Board member Fred Kessler of Bolivar said most of the coaches and administrators in his portion of West Tennessee favor the three-classification system, especially during the regular season.
"For most of my people it keeps travel at a minimum," Kessler said. "I think it is really good for people playing their rivalries. But the playoffs probably do not work as well as the five-class system."
Board members Mike Reed of Morristown West and Chuck West of Dresden did not respond to interview requests.