Not many can remember the score of the 1995 Class 5A state football championship game between Riverdale and Brentwood Academy. But the game often is cited as the trigger for the split between Divisions I and II a year later.
The Tennessee high school public-private debate has simmered for decades since then.
In fact, the issue raged a decade before Brentwood Academy's 27-16 win over Riverdale. And the issue is on the table again when the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association legislative council meets July 16 to vote on the next phase of the public-private debate.
"It really started before all of that stuff," said Ronnie Carter, who was executive director of the TSSAA from 1986-2009. "The first time was about 1986, when we got a proposal to put schools in two separate tournaments. It got a 52 percent (yes) vote.
"The council met to make sure everyone knew all that was involved, and we had eight meetings across the state to discuss the impact. Once people realize we were going to have to take 60 schools out and shift all the other schools, people started realizing the ramifications and ripple effects. The next vote was 70 percent in favor of leaving it alone."
The issue remained off the table until the mid-1990s. The Brentwood Academy win over Riverdale was enough for then-Riverdale principal Hulon Watson to lead a group of public school colleagues to push for a complete separation of public schools and private schools.
To Watson's dismay, a total split didn't happen, but he was happy with the overall division.
"I'm glad that it's over and I'm happy with the outcome," Watson told The Tennessean in 1996. "We'll have public school students playing against other non-financially aided students. That's what I wanted, and I think that's what most of the public schools in Tennessee wanted."
However, in 1996 a TSSAA legislative council voted to form Division II, which would include private schools that could offer unlimited financial aid. Private schools (or "independent" schools, as Carter prefers) that offered no financial aid would be allowed to continue in Division I with the rest of the public schools.
Carter admits he was never in favor of separating schools.
"I didn't think it was right," Carter said. "I did, however, believe strongly in the process, and we went through that process. Our role was that we wanted to make sure (Division II) had a good tournament series in every sport."
In the 1990s, Brentwood Academy was winning numerous football championships. The Eagles' success drew the ire of many in the public school community.
"Most people feel like if they're playing you and they feel you've already won before the game started, they're not very happy," said longtime Brentwood Academy football coach Carlton Flatt, who won 10 state championships with the Eagles. "I've been on both sides of it. I understand how they feel."
After Flatt stopped coaching at Brentwood Academy in the mid-2000s, he saw the other side of the argument. He spent three years at Eagleville, two of those as an assistant coach.
"I remember having to go out and sell things to get money for the program," Flatt said. "I didn't realize people had to do that. It gave a greater appreciation (for public schools)."
Before Division II was formed, private schools adhered to a "quota rule," in which no more than 14 boys and 11 girls who were receiving financial aid could participate in TSSAA-sanctioned athletics. That included just four for football.
Flatt understands his team's success was a big factor in the formation of Division II.
"What happened in 1995-96 was that we went 30-0 against the very best in Tennessee," Flatt said. "We had 70 in our entire senior class and could have played in 2A, but we chose to play in 5A. If winning was simply all we wanted, we could have stayed down.
"If people would have been patient, it would have worked. Financial aid would have been mostly restricted. If we hadn't won, I think everybody would have stayed together."
He also said separation wasn't necessarily the best answer.
"The problem is, when you make rules to hurt yourself, it's hard for me to understand what you're trying to accomplish. I have a former player who coaches in Texas. There, it's the opposite of here. The private schools don't want to play with the public schools there because the public schools are so strong.
"They make rules that help the public schools stay strong. For example, Maryville and Alcoa take advantage of rules that keep them strong."
Both Alcoa and Maryville have open zones that allow students not in their zone to pay a reasonable tuition fee to attend those schools. Alcoa has won seven state championships since 2004, with Maryville taking 11 since 1999.
"If public schools passed rules that made them better, we wouldn't be worrying about this."
Division II was formed in 1996, and teams started playing under the new guidelines during the 1997 season.
About 30 schools chose to move to Division II. That is similar to today's total. There are still numerous Midstate private schools in Division I, most notably Lipscomb Academy, Christ Presbyterian Academy and Goodpasture.
"All of the kids who play now weren't even born before there was a Division II," Carter said. "... I miss some of those great matchups back then — Riverdale vs. McCallie, Milan vs. BA, Milan vs. MUS. ...
"It's been the same issue all this time, just different names. Back then it was Brentwood Academy. Now it's CPA. I think the thing that drives it is winning. It always has."
Reach Cecil Joyce at 615-259-8017 and on Twitter @Cecil_Joyce.
Timeline: Public-private split
Following are important dates in the history of the TSSAA public-private debate.
1969: TSSAA goes to a three-classification system
A school's enrollment size was taken into consideration for football championships, as the largest schools were placed in Class AAA and the smallest in Class A. Three classifications still exist in Division I in sports such as basketball, baseball and softball, while football was extended to five classes in 1993 and six classes in 2009.
Early 1980s: "Financial Aid Quota Rule" established
This rule, established to deter high school recruiting, limited the number of athletes receiving financial aid who could participate in TSSAA-sanctioned sports to 14 boys and 11 girls per school (regardless of size). This rule was abolished when Division II was formed.
May 1986: First proposal to separate public and private schools
According to former TSSAA Executive Director Ronnie Carter, this was the first time a legislative council voted on such a split. It initially earned a 52 percent vote to split, but after consideration and research of ramifications, dropped to just 30 percent.
December 1995: Brentwood Academy defeats Riverdale 27-16 in the Class 5A Clinic Bowl
Not long after, Riverdale principal Hulon Watson and a group of public school colleagues proposed a complete split of public and private schools.
March 1996: TSSAA legislative council votes to establish Division II
A complete public-private split wasn't initiated, but the council did vote to move schools that wanted to offer financial aid to athletes into Division II, which would compete separately with public schools in the postseason.
August 1997: Post-split era begins
The first football season is played after the split, as Division I retains its five-class system and Division II is divided into Small and Large classification.
1998-2006: Brentwood Academy sues TSSAA and Carter
This suit came after the TSSAA imposed recruiting sanctions (citing "undue influence") against Brentwood Academy following letters the football program sent to eighth-graders in 1997. The program was put on probation for four years and ineligible for the postseason for two years. In the suit, Brentwood Academy alleged that the TSSAA recruiting rule violated First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and Tennessee law. During the nearly decade-long conflict, three separate decisions were overturned, and in the end, the final ruling by the Supreme Court was in favor of the TSSAA.
February 2004: Multiplier rule
For private schools that still competed in Division I, a multiplier rule was established. This multiplied the school's enrollment by 1.8 in order to determine which classification that school would compete athletically. The rule commonly placed the schools one classification higher than their actual enrollment would have dictated.
March 2014: Lewis County and Trousdale County make proposal to separate public and private schools
The TSSAA legislative council voted 7-2 to table the proposal in order to form a committee to study the issue. The committee, composed of two council members, two board members and 11 public and private school officials, recently provided the council with four options, including a complete split, a postseason split, implementing a success-advancement component or simply leaving things the way they are. A fifth proposal — separating schools based on whether they are classified as "urban" or "rural" — was brought up at a June 11 public-private study session.
June 2015: TSSAA discusses public-private split
With new proposals to completely split public schools and private schools, the TSSAA holds a lengthy board of control meeting to discuss the issue. Numerous pages of information are handed out on the subject. A vote on the issue is planned for July 16.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is set to vote next month on a potential public-private split that would change the landscape of high school athletics in Tennessee. High school sports reporters Michael Murphy and Tom Kreager sat down to answer some of the major questions surrounding the upcoming decision:
What is this all about?
The long-running public-private debate has plagued the TSSAA, along with high school athletic associations across the country, for decades.
In 1996, a TSSAA legislative council voted to form Division II — composed of private schools that provided need-based financial aid for athletes. The state's public schools, along with a handful of private schools that did not provide need-based aid, remained in Division I.
Not long after the initial partial split, the issue surfaced again.
In 2002, then-Collinwood principal Herb Luker proposed a complete split. It was ultimately defeated by a 5-4 vote, but the TSSAA implemented an enrollment multiplier two years later, forcing Division I private schools to compete against larger schools.
What is a multiplier?
A multiplier is a classification component that was first put in place in 2004 to establish a more level playing field in Division I.
The TSSAA uses a 1.8 multiplier, meaning the high school enrollment figures of Division I private schools are multiplied by 1.8 for classification purposes.
For instance, a school such as Christ Presbyterian Academy has a current high school enrollment of 419 students. Once the 1.8 multiplier is applied, that number swells to 754.2, resulting in the Lions' Class AA classification (3A in football). If not for the multiplier, CPA, which does not offer need-based financial aid to athletes, would compete in Class A against schools closer in size.
Why is this an issue now?
In March 2014, Lewis County and Trousdale County made a proposal similar to Luker's, which would force all private schools to join Division II, regardless of financial aid status.
The TSSAA legislative council voted 7-2 to table the proposal in order to form a committee to study the issue further. The committee, composed of two council members, two board members and 11 public and private school officials, recently provided the council with four options, including a complete split, a postseason split, implementing a success-advancement component or simply leaving things the way they are.
A fifth proposal — separating schools based on whether they are classified as "urban" or "rural" — was brought up at a June 11 public-private study session.
Who will make the decision?
The TSSAA's Legislative Council, composed of school officials from the state's nine athletic districts will decide. Council members are Science Hill athletics director Keith Turner, Knoxville Central principal Michael Reynolds, Soddy-Daisy principal Danny Gilbert, Watertown principal Jeff Luttrell, Maplewood principal Ron Woodard, Lewis County athletics director Mike Tatum, Huntingdon athletics director Mike Henson, Bradford Special Schools director Dan Black and Memphis Central principal Greg McCullough. There are no independent school representatives currently on the Board of Control or Legislative Council.
When will the decision be made?
The Legislative Council is scheduled to vote at 1 p.m. July 16 at the Doubletree Hotel in Murfreesboro. However, it is possible the council once again will vote to table the issue for a later date.
If a complete split passes, what will it mean?
The 24 private schools currently competing in Division I, including Christ Presbyterian Academy, Columbia Academy, Goodpasture, Grace Christian (Franklin), Lipscomb Academy, Middle Tennessee Christian and Nashville Christian, would be forced to join Division II.
When would it take effect?
The changes from any proposal that passes would be begin with the 2017-18 school year.
How is need-based financial aid determined for Division II schools?
An athlete's parents or guardians must submit all of their income information to one of the financial services that the TSSAA allows. That agency determines how much the family can afford to pay a Division II school. That information then goes back to the independent school heads.
For example, if it is determined that a family is able to afford to pay $8,000 toward their children's independent school education and the tuition is $14,000, then that athlete's need-based aid is $6,000. A Division II school can award only up to that. The TSSAA has found that through the years very few schools have awarded the entire amount for which an athlete qualifies.