Friday night, Christ Presbyterian Academy will face Whites Creek High School in a football game that marks the end of the regular season and the beginning of a new era in Tennessee athletics.
High school sports in the state are already split in many ways between private and public schools, but recent rule changes are resulting in a move towards even more competitive segregation.
CPA and the majority of private schools who had remained in the public-dominated Division I will be moving to the all private Division II. It means there will soon be less racial and economic diversity represented on the state’s playing fields.
CPA headmaster Nate Morrow says that’s one of the biggest reasons his school had stayed in the public division, where athletes are not allowed to receive scholarships.
“The relationships that are forged across the state through the vehicle of athletics are really a beautiful thing, and I want to make sure we are staying focused on that," Morrow says.
Many behind the scenes feel schools like CPA, Lipscomb Academy and Goodpasture Christian School were forced to make the move to DII by rule changes that they felt were unfair, such as closing a loophole that allowed schools to offer a job to an athlete's family member and still play in the non-scholarship division.
“If you were to ask me, I’d probably favor a split, but I’ve had a pretty good relationship with those people,” Chuck Daniel, athletic director at Creek Wood, told the Tennessean after the TSSAA rule change was proposed in September. “I like the ruling because I think it makes it fair across the board."
Longtime Nashville sports reporter Maurice Patton thinks public schools are looking for an end to athletic inequity, but he doubts that it can be achieved.
“You’re trying to create a level playing field and I’m not sure that there is a such thing as a level playing field in sports, in life or anywhere else," Patton says.
The school most targeted by the change in policy is CPA, which has consistently dominated opponents and vied for state championships in recent years. For example, since 2010, CPA has beaten Whites Creek in football every October by an average of five touchdowns.
Regardless of the eventual competitive outcome, Patton and Morrow share a common concern. They say dividing public and private athletics could have unintended consequences beyond the football field and basketball court.