The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Board of Control voted Monday to keep classifications as is, with football remaining at six classes and every other sport staying at three.
It was a 5-4 vote that decided the next four years of Tennessee high school sports with all five "yes" votes coming from west and middle Tennessee. All east Tennessee voters were in favor of returning to five classes.
A vote in favor of a five-class system would have been a beneficial one for many schools in East Tennessee, including Loudon and Lenoir City.
The current system makes for a confusing playoff format, which was a complaint of many heading into the vote.
Teams play a three-class format in the regular season before expanding to six classes in the postseason. For the Panthers, it is a distinct disadvantage. Of the teams in Lenoir City's district, five - William Blount, Maryville, Heritage, Farragut and Bearden - are classified as 6A, while the Panthers are classified as 5A.
Meanwhile, district one holds just two 6A teams, Science Hill and Dobyns Bennett, while housing six 5A teams. On paper, the Panthers play in a much more difficult conference, but their record against stiffer competition is weighted no differently that those in district one.
"You can look at it one of two ways," Lenoir City coach Mike Zeller said. "If we survive and we do OK enough to get to the playoffs, that kind of helps us as far as being prepared for the playoffs playing a lot bigger competition. But just to make the playoffs is a struggle, especially since some teams don't play as many 6A teams as we do. That's a little unfair."
The six-class system hurts the Loudon Redskins in a different way. While the system was supposed to cut down on travel, Loudon is traveling just as much as before. For example, Scott County is roughly 85 miles away by vehicle for the Redskins while Stone Memorial is nearly 63 miles away.
Greenback faces the same problem with travel costs. Because overall record decides postseason seeding, teams have more difficulty finding non-district opponents for the regular season.
In 2011, Greenback took a round-trip to Cloudland High School of roughly 320 miles for a game out of conference. Because Greenback is a small school that typically has a good record, schools of similar size do not want to schedule the Cherokees. At the same time, scheduling up can do little to help Greenback toward its goals in the postseason but can do much to hurt the team.
It was that dilemma that ended the football series between Loudon and Greenback.
"The reason we wanted to switch was to get away from Alcoa and then it gave us more flexibility to schedule our out of district games," Loudon coach Jeff Harig said. "Both of those have been taken away from us. My initial reaction is disappointment, but you have to play with what they send and move on."
While some teams encounter far fewer disadvantages, and some none at all, the vote will clearly leave many schools, primarily those in east Tennessee, unhappy.
The driving force behind keeping the six-class system seems to be monetary. Six classes means more playoff teams in the state, which translates to more playoff gates and more money to be made from those games. TSSAA would risk losing roughly $100,000 in playoff revenue by reverting to a five-class system due to a smaller number of teams that will qualify for the postseason.
"It's watered down the playoffs," Harig said of the number of teams now in the postseason. "To me, playoffs don't mean as much as they used to and at the end of the day we have too many teams that go anyway."
Slight tweaks will come in the system as TSSAA will attempt to even out the number of schools in each classification, though not necessarily each district, and state semifinal hosts will be predetermined by bracket placement rather than playoff seeding.
"We were looking kind of forward to five classifications," Zeller said. "I think that's a little better system."
The six-class system will remain in place through at least the 2016 season. A poll of high school coaches in Tennessee reportedly showed 60 percent in favor of returning to five classes, while only 48 percent of administrators favored the change.