Hargis: The rest of DII-AAA football should concentrate on winning, not whining

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / McCallie’s Javon McMahan (0) attempts to get past Baylor’s John Amofah Jr. (48) September 29. The Blue Tornado and Red Raiders will meet again Thursday to decide the TSSAA DII-AAA championship at Finley Stadium.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / McCallie’s Javon McMahan (0) attempts to get past Baylor’s John Amofah Jr. (48) September 29. The Blue Tornado and Red Raiders will meet again Thursday to decide the TSSAA DII-AAA championship at Finley Stadium.


If jealousy is indeed the jaundice of the soul, as English poet John Dryden suggested, then the Division II-AAA football programs outside of Chattanooga are all infected.

Or maybe there's another explanation for the yellow tint those schools have begun to show.

Regardless of who wins Thursday's historical matchup between Baylor and McCallie for the BlueCross Bowl state championship, the loudest complaining won't come from the losing side.

That distinction belongs to the other nine programs competing in DII-AAA, who have done more whining than winning lately.

In the 26-year history of Division II, Baylor and McCallie have combined to claim 162 team state championships across every sport other than football. Of that total, 94 have come in boys' sports and the number would be far greater if individual titles were included.

All of that hardware was collected without so much as a peep from any of the other large private schools.

However, because Baylor and McCallie have combined to win the past four football titles — a streak that will extend once the long-time rivals settle things at Finley Stadium Thursday evening — the rest of the league decided the only way to end the Scenic City dominance is to request the TSSAA's Legislative Council discuss possible changes to the decades-old rule allowing boarding students to be eligible to participate in athletics. Those discussions will begin next week at the council's next scheduled meeting.

Ironically, this is the same type argument that led to the creation of Division II in the mid-1990s after the large public schools decided they could no longer compete with the private school programs for state titles in football and pushed for a separation.

The root of this latest issue is that, although both Baylor and McCallie have had on-campus dorms that pre-date even joining the TSSAA, their recent influx of out-of-state talent — particularly the pipeline of Canadian players that began enrolling during the 2020 season when their country shut down all high school sports due to the pandemic — has given the rest of the league an inferiority complex.

When pleading for change, however, this group of griping coaches and administrators likely won't mention how, prior to the current run by Baylor and McCallie, the large private schools from Nashville and Memphis claimed 17 consecutive football state titles. That includes a nine-year stretch in which the gold ball trophy stayed within a 10-mile radius between Brentwood Academy, Ensworth and Montgomery Bell Academy.

And while local history will be made this week when, for the first time ever, Chattanooga's most prestigious programs compete for state supremacy — in their own backyard nonetheless — it should be noted that there has been an all-Nashville private school championship game 10 times since D-II was implemented. There was also an all-Memphis title game 20 years ago.

Even with the recent run by Chattanooga teams — they've gone 53-19 against league competition during the five-year stretch of championship seasons — Nashville and Memphis programs own 21 of the 26 football championships for the large private school division, which is to be expected with the amount of talent that can be collected from the state's two largest cities.

But rather than mope or complain about the competitive disadvantages they faced for two decades as a result of our city having one-fourth the population of either Nashville or Memphis, the Blue Tornado and Red Raiders instead opted to capitalize on their biggest amenity — on-campus dorms — to house enough out-of-state transfers to offset the lack of local talent.

The results include an undeniable upgrade in rosters, which includes a combined 11 players with FBS-level college scholarship offers this season. And that has led to the complaints growing louder and steadier by a collection of elites who frankly have the means to solve their own problems by building on-campus dorms themselves.

After all, it was only a few years ago that MBA received a donation — from a single donor — of more than $90 million. The school used a portion of the bequest to fund the 200,000-square foot, three-story athletic complex that includes a 1,400-seat basketball arena, 40-yard indoor practice facility, three-court practice gym, wrestling and golf facilities, multiple weight rooms, locker rooms and a lounge.

It also redesigned its football stadium and added a lacrosse field, all coming at a cost of around $50 million.

And Ensworth High was created about 20 years ago when one family became upset over MBA's refusal to admit girls, leading to a $60 million capital campaign to create the new Nashville private school.

Simply put, you can't have on-campus facilities that would make a good portion of Southeastern Conference programs envious, hire former NFL players as coaches and boast a staff of nearly 30 assistants, plus place college-prospect transfers in off-campus housing and then cry about inequity.

It's laughable.

But as is often the case, it's much easier to redirect blame for one's own shortcomings than to do some self-evaluation.

The reason the other DII-AAA teams are lagging behind is not boarding students in Chattanooga, but a broad list of their own bad decisions. That includes making wrong coaching hires (both Brentwood Academy and Lipscomb Academy have already dismissed their head coaches in recent weeks and more changes could be looming in the 615 area code) as well as adding out-of-town prospects to their roster who did not mesh with the existing talent.

Those issues, and more, resulted in the five Nashville DII-AAA teams struggling to a 23-33 combined record this season, and were compounded by Lipscomb Academy being hit with a two-year playoff ban by the TSSAA after it was discovered at least two transfers didn't actually make a bonafide change of address. Side note, I bet the prospect of having dorms for those student-athletes sounds pretty good right about now for the Mustangs, huh?

So, while the Blue Tornado and Red Raiders scheme against each other to determine whose trophy case will add more gold hardware, the other programs in the league will spend the days ahead designing ways to take the shine off their Chattanooga competition.

It's a course of action spurred by envy, or as Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, "jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius."

Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected] 

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