Petition Closed

TSSAA - Change Your Independent Game Rule

This petition had 474 supporters

Originally, this petition was created back on Dec. 23rd 2015 to encourage my school to allow me to participate in other events during the cross-country and track season, including allowing athletes to swim year round and also run in triathlons.  In order to foster this change, we needed TSSAA to alter their Independent Game rule regarding cross-country, so that triathlons were not in conflict.  After receiving over 450 signatures, we received word of a partial victory on Feb. 4th and sent an update to all of our supporters on that day as well.  We are therefore modifying this petition to pursue the last outstanding injustice... 

First the two positive things...

1. In speaking with my principle and the athletic director of my high school, they are now allowing me to continue to swim year round and compete in triathlons, during the track and XC season.

2. TSSAA is denying our previous discussion ever took place, even though we have proof that it did, and they are reversing their previous decision in regards to XC athletes also competing in triathlons during the season. This is currently permitted as triathlon is now "not considered an independent game for cross country."  Emails from TSSAA to support this new position can be found below this petition.

HOWEVER, TSSAA is holding firm on the fact that a XC athlete CANNOT participate in any other exclusive walk/run only events that are advertised as a 5K distance during the cross country season or they risk becoming ineligible and disqualifying their high school team from competition. In fact, there seems to be some debate on what is or is not an acceptable distance, because I spoke with one individual who was told that anything LESS THAN OR EQUAL TO 5K is not allowed to be run and based on our email from TSSAA below, that definitely could be an interpretation of the rule.  To clarify, this includes participating in fundraising to support churches raising $ to help the hungry, homeless or to fund mission trips and also non-profits like the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association or National Cancer Society trying to fight disease. 


Athletes aren't allowed to participate in CHURCH fundraisers of 5K or less during Cross Country season! This is a conservative state that supports religious freedom and most people are unaware of this rule. TSSAA has no right to punish us or our schools by making us ineligible for trying to help make a difference in causes like I mention above. They are overstepping what they were designed to do. They are also making very little effort to; notify event directors, coaches, athletes or parents of this policy, exclude XC from the policy, or to add verbiage to the Independent Game Rule for acceptable exclusions like these and we need them to.  If you look at the comments from the current supporters of this petition, most are involved directly with cross-country and had no idea of this policy.

We pay taxes to support public schools. What gives them the right to try to dictate and control what we do on private time? What gives them the right to spy on us and punish us for what we do on our private time? This seems like they are grossly overstepping and seriously infringing on our rights. Most of these events are on Sunday. What gives them the right to tell us what we can and cannot do on a Sunday? Will they tell us we can't go to church on Sunday too? Where does this stop? This makes no sense. We are not in college. We do not attend public schools on scholarships. We are there on YOUR dime and these stupid policies are where some of that hard earned money is being spent.

They should NEVER have this level of control. 

How have they gotten away with this for so long?

          Because people like YOU didn’t know and act until now.


If you follow this link and check out slide #35, you’ll see something called the “Independent Game Rule” created by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA).  This policy states that, “Once a student’s name is listed on the school eligibility form, if a student participates in an independent game in that sport before the season has closed… the student shall be ineligible at the varsity level.”  It goes on to define an “independent game” as “any organized game in which players not registered with TSSAA participate (regardless of whether admission is charged).” 

There are several interesting things here.  First, it specifically states that it does not apply to “bowling, golf and tennis.”  Evidently, you can play in a tennis match every day of the week if you want and never lose eligibility.  I guess these sports don't have any control freaks presumably.  It also does not apply to swimming.  Why?  Because TSSAA is not over swimming thank goodness.  Let's avoid that cup of tea at all costs in the future please. At least right now you can still swim year round for a club team and participate in meets for them on the weekend and also swim for the High School some evening without any issue at all.  I wonder when that will change? Cross country is clearly a different story, because the craziness is in affect for that sport today.

In the previous petition we had a transcript of a recorded phone conversation with TSSAA's Assistant Director Mr. McWhirter, but since most of it related to the triathlon piece that has since been rectified, we have chosen to remove the majority of that conversation.  However, there is one crucial component of that conversation that I want to point out..

Mr. McWhirter: It doesn’t matter. If they do a 5K during cross country season outside of school competition then they are ineligible. Every now and then we get questions from race directors and we just tell them to market their races as 3 mile runs in the Fall. If they aren’t exactly a 5K (3.10686 miles) then they can do it. (our comment.. Yep, really, let’s just do some creative rounding and it works fine. Apparently this is STILL in contention though, because we're also being told that the event now MUST be LONGER than a 5K. In other words, TSSAA doesn't seem to know how to interpret their own rules and are going back and forth without clarity every time they talk to somebody new.)

US: So you don’t care about the 2.5K event? That one is fine? They could run a 10K if they wanted to?

Mr. McWhirter: Yep. As far as I know cross country only does 5K, so that’s the only distance at issue here. (our comment.. NOTE THAT THIS HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH SAFETY CONCERNS)

US: Can you tell me why we have this rule?

Mr. McWhirter: No. We don’t do that. This rule was here long before I got here and will probably be here long after I am gone. Listen, WE REPRESENT THE SCHOOLS. IF THE SCHOOLS WANTED THAT RULE OUT OF THERE THEY WOULD REMOVE IT.


(see below for the recent emails from Mr. McWhirter backing off on triathlon and reinforcing the TSSAA stance on other 5Ks)

From: Richard McWhirter
Date: Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 1:33 PM
Subject: Re: XC and Independent Game rule
To: Sean Byars

Yes, the people running the event need to have a high school starting line that is a longer distance then 5K.

On Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 10:59 AM, Sean Byars wrote:
So if a HS Cross country athlete does a 5k for a church to raise money for homeless or a mission trip during XC season he becomes ineligible. Is that correct?

On Thursday, February 4, 2016, Richard McWhirter wrote:
I don't remember that conversation, but the triathlon is not considered an independent game for cross country. On the other events sponsored by community groups during cross country the athlete needs to entire in an event that is longer then 5K. If so they are legal. We do not have a list across the state of all cross country coaches, but each school can see emails and coaches names from coaches in their regions.

On Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 9:40 AM, Sean Byars wrote:

On Thursday, February 4, 2016, Richard McWhirter wrote:
Who did you talk to in August?

On Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 3:18 PM, Sean Byars wrote:
Mr. McWhirter,

We received a copy of the email below from Oak Ridge High School. This would appear to be a reversal of what we were told back in August. Could you please elaborate on that discrepancy? Also, I am concerned about athlete participation in 5K run/walks hosted by churches and other non-profits like the American Heart Association and National Cancer Society etc. during XC season. Can you please address how these are handled under the Independent Game Rule? What needs to happen to get proper verbiage added to the Independent Game rule so these policies are clearer to athletes, parents and coaches and we do not have further discrepancies like this in the future? Also, what needs to happen to exclude XC entirely, like bowling, golf and tennis already are. Do you happen to have a directory of Cross Country coaches across the state that could be shared?

Sean Byars

From: Richard McWhirter []
Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 6:53 PM
To: Mike Mullins
Cc: Bernard Childress
Subject: Triathlon Athlete

TSSAA does not consider a triathlon as an independent game for cross country or track since the triathlon is not a sanctioned sport. If your athlete participates in a triathlon while participating in track or cross country there would be no TSSAA violation. If you have any questions feel free to contact me by email.

Best Regards,
Richard McWhirter

Assistant Executive Director
3333 Lebanon Road
Hermitage, TN 37076
615-889-6740 Office
615-889-0544 Fax


Today: Daeton is counting on you

Daeton Byars needs your help with “Change TSSAA's Rule”. Join Daeton and 473 supporters today.