My Morgan County friends will say this piece is sour grapes.
That isn't the case. I have no vested interest in the basketball teams from Oneida — or, for that matter, Scott — other than I spend 25 or so evenings from November to February covering the teams, and it's hard to watch teams play that much ball and not root for the very best for them.
Truthfully, it's anything but sour grapes. With the exception of some revisions to reflect the outcome, it was written before Monday's District 4-A championship game at Wartburg Central High School.
Rather, it just seems the appropriate time — now that the tournament is complete — to renew an old gripe: the disadvantage of one school hosting the tournament year after year.
This year marked the 10th consecutive season that the District 4-A tournament has been held at Wartburg. With the exception of 2006, when Oneida hosted the region tournament, the Region 2-A tournament has been held at Wartburg every other year during that same timeframe.
TSSAA rules stipulate that the athletic director from each school within the district will vote on the tournament location, with certain other stipulations — mostly related to seating capacity — dictating which schools are ineligible to host postseason games.
Most districts across Tennessee rotate the tournament between their schools as a matter of courtesy, or select a neutral site.
Because four of the seven schools in District 4-A — a slight majority — fall within Morgan County, those schools can control where the district tournament is held each year as long as those schoolsí athletic directors stick together.
For the past decade, they have done that. And the tournament has been held in Wartburg each year, despite growing dissatisfaction among schools outside the district ó which currently consist of Oneida, Jellico and Oliver Springs.
The past couple of seasons have seen a 4-3 split in the vote ó the Morgan County schools vs. the other schools. And sources with first-hand knowledge of the vote say that coaches at at least one Morgan County school want to end the practice of having the tournament at Wartburg each year but are overriden by their athletic director. Another source close to the situation says that the athletic directorsí votes are dictated by the Morgan County School Systemís central office.
Unfortunately, TSSAA rules allow no recourse for such a situation — barring a rules change by the association's board of directors, which is a subject that has thus far not been broached.
It is a subject that deserves to be broached.
On Monday, Oneidaís team bus rolled back onto the local campus just minutes before 11 p.m., just nine hours before players were due back in class.
The team's opponent, Wartburg, had the luxury of playing the game on its home court — an advantage any time, especially on a school night.
Wartburg was also able to play the game on the court where it practices every day — the court where it is most comfortable. Which would be a-okay if it were the school's turn to host in a normal rotation. The disgruntlement arises because Wartburg is guaranteed that home court each and every year. Proponents of the situation say it wouldn't be an issue if Wartburg weren't winning. Perhaps not. But Wartburg is winning, and will continue to win. Each of the teams is too well-coached not to.
A growing number of fans are peeved at the situation, including some in Morgan County. Most coaches arenít going to speak publicly on the issue because they don't want to be perceived as using the situation as an excuse. But, privately, most coaches outside Morgan County will tell you that they aren't happy with the setup.
Does the home court advantage give Wartburg a leg up to winning championships? Perhaps; perhaps not. Certainly the home court didnít appear to be a deciding factor in Monday's game. And if Wartburg claimed the men's championship on Tuesday, it likely wouldn't have been a factor either; after all, the Bulldogs won on every district team's home floor during the regular season.
Proponents of keeping the tournament in Wartburg say that location should not matter; that good teams will overcome any obstacle and win games, regardless of the location.
That point is fair enough, but can anyone say with a straight face that if the situation were reversed — if the tournament were hosted in Oneida, Oliver Springs or Jellico each year — that there wouldn't be a fair amount of grumbling from other schools in the district?
Sure there would. And there should. There are advantages that extend beyond the home court.
This is not a complaint about Wartburg's ability to host the tournament. The school goes to great lengths to accommodate visitors — including the media. The hospitality room at Wartburg is second-to-none. The staff is courteous, and anyone who has ever been directly involved with the responsibilities of hosting a tournament know how much extra work it is for teachers who already have a full plate. Few, if any, of the hundreds of people who attend the tournament each year have complaints about the hosts themselves.
But the bigger issue is the fact that this setup at least leaves the perception that a cluster of schools in one county are able to use their majority to strong-arm the rest of the district into a postseason format that is in place in almost no other district — if any — elsewhere in the state.
There are a number of plausible solutions. One, which seems less than ideal, is to rotate the tournament annually between schools large enough to host. That would be Oneida, Wartburg and perhaps Jellico, though there is some dispute over whether the Blue Devils' gym is large enough to meet TSSAA requirements.
Another would be to allow each school, turn-about, to choose where the tournament is held each year. Wartburg could host when its turn rolled around, as could Oneida and Jellico, assuming the TSSAA-mandated seating capacity isn't an issue. Coalfield, Oakdale, Sunbright and perhaps Oliver Springs could opt to leave the tournament at Wartburg when their turn rolled around in the rotation.
Yet another would be a neutral site, a concept employed by a number of other districts. Scott High, though that likely would be immediately ruled out due to the perceived advantage for Oneida, Roane State and Anderson County seem like plausible choices.
Still another option might involve making the entire tournament a satellite affair, with each game being hosted by the higher-seeded school.
Either way, it seems to be past time for TSSAA to reevaluate the way postseason tournament sites are determined.