"The schools make the rules."
It's a comment that Bernard Childress, current executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, has made -- either verbatim or in paraphrased fashion -- over the course of his tenure.
It's also a comment that former TSSAA executive director Ronnie Carter made, in some form or another, and one that I'm sure his predecessor, Gill Gideon, made (though I never interacted with Mr. Gideon to actually hear him say it).
So when some athlete, coach or entity goes off on the state's high school athletics governing board about some rule that they disagree with, that rule was in all likelihood brought about by an school administrator or group of administrators.
And in all likelihood, it was in an effort to keep from dealing with a thorny situation themselves -- kicking the can and making someone else the scapegoat.
Take, for instance, last weekend's Perfect Game All-American Classic. Three Tennessee baseball standouts from the Class of 2020 were named to the East roster for the Sunday event in San Diego -- Independence's Robert Hassell, Lipscomb Academy's Jack O'Dowd and Farragut's Ryan Hagenow.
Only one was able to actually participate.
Because fall semester classes had already started at Independence and Farragut, Hassell and Hagenow were ineligible under TSSAA all-star game rules to play; to do so would have endangered their eligibility for the upcoming season.
Lipscomb began classes Wednesday, a schedule that allowed O'Dowd to participate without being in violation of the state's rule.
As is always the case when the TSSAA is perceived as 'the man', keeping somebody down, reaction over the weekend was pointed and unfavorable from near and far.
"Thanks to TSSAA I couldn't play in the Perfect Game All-American game, but thank you ... for a great event, glad I could see the homies ball out," Hassell tweeted Monday.
"One disappointment at the (game) is that the players from Tennessee once again cannot participate because of a TSSAA rule," tweeted Mike Rooney, ESPN college baseball analyst, over the weekend. "I hope this can be looked at. Strange that every other state is OK with this. Bottom line, the kids from Tennessee miss out on an awesome opportunity."
Hassell and Hagenow aren't the only Tennessee players that have been sidelined for the event. Current major leaguers Sonny Gray and Mookie Betts were prevented from playing as well prior to their senior seasons at Smyrna and Overton, respectively.
Former Tullahoma standout Justus Sheffield found a work-around -- withdrawing from classes, playing in the 2013 contest and re-enrolling, after Science Hill's Daniel Norris had done likewise in 2010. The TSSAA's Legislative Council closed that loophole during the 2013-14 school year, however.
Both the Legislative Council (which makes changes to the TSSAA constitution and by-laws) and Board of Control (which enforces TSSAA rules) are comprised of administrators from member schools.
"Any member school can propose a change in the by-laws," Childress said. "It's never been submitted that 'we need to take a serious look at this and it needs to change', I know not in the last 10 years.
"Everybody looks at this one all-star game. We have all-star games all across the state and all across the nation that invite eighth-graders, ninth-graders, 10th-graders; parents get letters that 'your child has been named a sophomore all-American and is invited to this all-star game', and it's $500 to play. Our schools are looking at, one of the main goals is to prevent the exploitation of kids. ... Right now, schools do not want that occurring."
Rather than the individual schools putting their feet down, though, it's easier for them to allow the TSSAA to play the heavy in the court of public opinion.
"That happens with many of our rules: 'It's the TSSAA's fault'," Childress said. "We don't write these rules. People don't understand, I have no vote. I don't even have an opinion I'm supposed to express. I read the rule, read the proposed change, ask if anyone wants to speak for or against the proposal, they consider the changes and they vote."
With this specific rule, Pat Swallows -- executive director of the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association -- is hopeful of a review soon. Only member schools can propose a change to a rule or by-law.
"We're probably going to (ask for) that," he said. "We have done that in the past. I won't say who shot it down.
"This is just an honor for the players, an honor for the state, an honor for the school. It's not hurting anybody or anything. We had our regional meeting a couple of weeks ago and that was brought up, so we'll see how far we get with that."