Tennessee combines lacrosse divisions

McCallie head coach Troy Kemp (right) will be one of 23 teams vying for one Tennessee state championship in 2012. Mike Loveday/ESPNHS

A facelift to the structure of the Tennessee Scholastic Lacrosse Association will make it so only one team is smiling at the end of the season.

Tennessee used to crown two champs -- a Division I winner and a Division II winner -- but beginning this spring only one victor will be able to call themselves the state’s best.

Goodbye, split divisions. Hello, State Champion Division.

“We felt like we needed to combine the two divisions to help the growth of the sport,” said Will Jenner, who is the TSLA vice president and Ravenwood (Brentwood, Tenn.) head coach. “The idea is to make teams work harder and still create a competitive balance.”

The new format will combine nine teams from the old Division I with 14 teams from the old Division II to form the State Championship Division.

The ten remaining teams from the old Division II, which includes four new programs, will compete in the Invitational Tournament Division. Those ten teams will not compete for a state title, only a tournament title.

“The ITD is more of a development league for new programs and teams who do not have the resources to compete with the rest of the state,” Jenner said. “This gives them a chance to develop and compete for a tournament title and then eventually move to the SCD.”

Coaches in the TSLA all voted on the new realignment after last season and 75 percent of the coaches were in favor of the switch.

“I think most coaches felt like a lot of the Division II teams were not challenging themselves and they were getting too complacent,” Jenner said. “They didn’t want to come play in Division I and we felt like that was hurting the development of the players.”

A big reason why some teams never wanted to leap to Division I is what Jenner calls the Power 3 schools– McCallie (Chattanooga, ten.), Memphis University School (Memphis, Tenn.) and Montgomery Bell Academy (Nashville, Tenn.). The trio of powerhouse programs have dominated the state during the last 15 years and are the clear favorites to compete for the state title this season.

"Some coaches that were against it, I felt like they didn’t want to move up just because they won’t have a great chance to win the state title,” Jenner said. “But I disagree with that thinking.”

Jenner added, “If you want to be the best, play the best. The players moving up from Division II will get better and the teams will get better because they will be playing better competition.”

Not every coach in the state is on board with the switch.

Just ask Webb (Knoxville, Tenn.) coach Rico Silvera.

He thinks the majority of the old Division II will not have a chance to compete with Division I’s best and that will hurt the growth of the sport.

“Everyone will be overwhelmed when they play them and it’s ridiculous when you are trying to build a program,” he said. “I can run against Usain Bolt once a week and I will never make it to the Olympics.”

But don’t expect Silvera and Webb, last year’s Division II runner-up, to just fall flat, he said.

“We will still go and compete and will elevate our game,” he said. “But for a lot of schools who are trying to climb the ladder, that ladder just got a lot more difficult to climb.”

Travel costs also factored into the decision for most of the programs involved. During the former format some teams were traveling up to seven hours for playoff games and even two to three hours for league games.

“Division I was really spread out and this helps us geographically,” Kemp said. “Travel was definitely an issue.”

Silvera agrees with some of the arguments for the new look league, but at the end of the day, he still thinks the sport will not grow like most expect.

“I really don’t think the majority of these high school programs will grow because of the large talent gap,” he said. “Participation will diminish. I will continue to say that until I am proven wrong.”

TSLA (Tennessee Scholastic Lacrosse Association) Division Alignment