Guest columnist Bill Zechman, while a member of the Warren County Board of School Commissioners, expresses his own views in the following column. He emphasizes that he is not speaking for the school system and is solely responsible for his comments.
American football owes something to Frank G Dickinson. After 92 years, it’s time the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) acknowledge the debt.
Dickinson was not an athlete of any note, nor was he a coach or sports writer. He was an economics professor at the University of Illinois, whose Fighting Illini were a dominant power in intercollegiate football in 1926.
In that year, the professor introduced what came to be known at the Dickinson System, an empirical, data-based method that for the first time brought mathematical precision and objectivity the ranking of football teams. It was the forerunner of a dozen-plus scientific models, including the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in use from 2006 to 2014.
Controversy has followed these mathematical systems from Dickinson’s day, but at least they offer a logical process for comparing the relative strengths of football programs. Statistics like won-lost records - even the won-lost records of opponents - are not subject to argument or opinion.
In contrast, the TSSAA concept of district alignments looks only at school enrollment numbers. Never mind other factors like won-lost experience and student demographics. The TSSAA merely assumes that school population is a measure of football competitiveness. It’s time for the association to prove the supposed relationship on a rigorous, logical basis.
In this space last Wednesday, Southern Standard sports editor Jeffery Simmons laid out the evidence convicting the TSSAA’s division alignments and game pairings.
“Warren County was moved into the 6A division four years ago,” Simmons wrote. “Since moving into the region, the Pioneers are 1-25 and have lost by a combined score of 1,149 to 201. That’s an average loss of 44-8, which would mean Warren County usually finishing games with the mercy rule enacted every time it suits up for a region game.”
In the hope some relief from this systemic inequity, the Warren County School System petitioned the TSSAA Board of Control to be moved into a region one step down in terms of high school enrollment. Even after Jeffery’s column exposed the overwhelming absurdity of the regional groupings, that board rejected the request, essentially doubling down on an illogical and indefensible system that predestines some programs to be permanent winners and others to a career of constant struggle.
It’s time for the TSSAA to yield to the facts and implement a rational, rather than intuitive, approach to football program alignments.
As a Pioneers fan and supporter, I respect and honor our players for their dedication, talent and hard work - especially when they have to compete in a rigged system.