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Football playoffs entering 52nd — not 50th — season

By Douglas Fritz • Jul 30, 2019 at 12:37 AM

Football teams participated in their first official practices Monday, and most people would say this is the 50th anniversary of the high school playoffs in Tennessee — using 1969 as the reference point for the beginning.

There’s nothing wrong with looking at it that way. But this is not the 50th year of the playoffs. That happened in 2017.

Wait, what?

In 1969, a full season was played and three TSSAA state champions were crowned. That means the 10th group of champions came in 1978. The first 10 Class AAA champs were Morristown East (1969), Murfreesboro Central, Tennessee High, Tennessee High (repeat), Baylor, Father Ryan, Oak Ridge, Bradley Central, Memphis Christian Brothers and Gallatin (1978).

The 20th group occurred in 1988, No. 30 in 1998, No. 40 in 2008 and No. 50 last year.

So why wasn’t 2018 the 50th playoff season? Because there was a playoff in 1938. The TSSAA acknowledges that playoff, and Elizabeth- ton certainly does, too. The Cyclones defeated Dobyns-Bennett and Shelbyville before topping Jackson in Tennessee’s only true state championship because there was no classification.

So as far as milestones go, the golden season passed by a couple of years ago without any fanfare. And the 52nd group of state champions will be crowned in December.


The TSSAA will use the following rule changes this season in football.

Play clock — It will start at 40 seconds instead of 25 in many cases.

Twenty-five seconds will be used: (a) prior to a try following a score, (b) to start a period or overtime series, (c) following administration of an inadvertent whistle, (d) following a charged timeout, (e) following an official’s timeout, and (f) following the stoppage of the play clock by the referee for any other reason.

In all other cases, 40 seconds will start when the ball is declared dead by a game official.

Tripping penalty — Tripping the runner is now prohibited. It will be a foul to intentionally use the lower leg or foot to obstruct a runner below the knees.

Horse collar — The foul was expanded to include the name-plate area, which is directly below the back collar.

Formations — A legal scrimmage formation now requires at least five offensive players ­— instead of seven — on their line of scrimmage with no more than four backs. This will make it easier for officials to identify legal and illegal offensive formations.

Illegal batting or kicking — The penalty has been reduced from 15 yards to 10 yards.

Future rule — Regarding uniforms, a new requirement effective with the 2024 season will mandate use of numbers that will make them more visible.


In the July 15 edition of NET Notes, Sullivan South was credited with two semifinal appearances and four quarterfinal finishes. But the Rebels have reached the semifinals three times.

The mistake came during research because of the unique playoff setup in 1993. It was the first year the TSSAA went to a five-classification setup, and the organization decided to award a first-round bye to region champions, setting up a 24-team bracket in each classification. Sullivan South was a region champion and only needed two wins to reach the semifinal round.

Many coaches across the state believed the bye didn’t help region champions because first-round winners had a playoff game under their belts along with the momentum of a postseason win. And — by the way — the TSSAA didn’t collect any money from those eight missing playoff games in each classification. That may have been a factor, too (snickering allowed).

So in 1994, the TSSAA scrapped the bye and went to a full 32-team bracket.

Sullivan South’s total adjusts to 84 total points, but the Rebels remain in fifth place.

Team (total points)

1. Elizabethton (139)

2. Dobyns-Bennett (118)

3. Tennessee High (104)

4. Hampton (91)

5. Sullivan South (84)