The Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association voted last week and finally came up with a Plan B for fall sports, particularly for football and girls’ soccer.
Right now, fall athletes are preparing for their campaigns as if they are going on as scheduled, which would include Aug. 21 as the start date for high school football. This, however, is predicated on whether or not Tennessee governor Bill Lee and his legal team grant Tennessee high schools the same exemption as the NFL and colleges.
If there is no exemption and the governor’s emergency order, which expires on Aug. 29, is allowed to run to term, then high school football will start Sept. 18 with an eight-game regular season.
At the end of that season, there will be a four-round playoff where only regional champions and runners-up will qualify. Teams that don’t qualify will have the ability to schedule two more exhibition games during the playoffs.
Soccer will have that same opportunity.
There also is a distinct possibility that if COVID-19 cases spike statewide, it could mean the cancellation of the fall seasons.
Local high school head football coaches Eric Swenson (Huntingdon), Wade Comer (McKenzie), Josh Wolfe (West Carroll), and Jamie Williams (Hollow Rock-Bruceton) all said they are okay or at least willing to work with the TSSAA’s hybrid plan.
“I’m glad the TSSAA finally came out and said something, but we’re still waiting on the governor to say something,” said Swenson. “But I think it’s going to be alright.”
Comer said he is glad that there seems to be a target now.
“We got an idea. Hopefully the governor will come through and turn it loose, but we have a plan to follow. It will depend on the governor when we know something,” Comer said. “I feel pretty confident that if we are in school and things are going pretty good, we’re going to be playing ball.”
“I think their aim is to start on time, which might be unrealistic at this point, but, overall, I think it’s a good plan,” said Wolfe. “I think the TSSAA and the governor are passing the buck back and forth.”
Williams said that right now he assuming that his Tigers will be starting their regular season on Sept. 18, but that is not certain.
“I’m not sure what’s best for the kids,” said Williams. “We’re all learning on the go, and we can just hope to do the best we can.”
All the coaches commented that the state’s ban on full-contact practices and pre-season scrimmages, seven-on-seven practices with other teams, and jamborees is going to make it hard to gauge their team’s readiness to face off with opponents in that first game, whether that turns out to be Aug. 21 or Sept. 18.
“That’s a big deal,” said Swenson regarding the lack of pre-season interaction with other teams. “It would definitely make us better as a team, but we’ll just have to do what we can.”
In addition to the cancellation of pre-season matchups, the TSSAA also approved a list of additional rules and guidelines for teams, coaches, and fans. Those rules and guidelines are as follows:
•Required temperature checks for all players, coaches, and team personnel prior to the start of practice, every single day. Those who show a temperature of 110.4 or greater, must leave and not return until they have tested negative for COVID-19 or have been cleared by a physician.
•Coaches and players must complete a written COVID-19 screening questionnaire every week in order to participate.
•A COVID-19 symptom checklist must be posted at all sports contests.
•Hosting schools are encouraged to limit fan attendance to a number that allows for adequate physical distancing.
•Band members, cheerleaders, and other student groups must also undergo temperature checks before games.
•Frequent cleaning/sanitation is encouraged.
•Concessions are discouraged.
•All coaches must complete the NFHS online COVID-19 course.
Regarding the recommendation to limit fan attendance, Comer said he believes that is more of a suggestion.
“The state threw out a lot of information on game day management and you have to read through the jargon to see what was mandated and what was suggested – and the crowd was a suggestion,” said Comer. “People wearing masks and social distancing outside will be safer than going to Walmart.”
Williams pointed out that not selling concessions at games would significantly impact funding for Central’s football program.
“Not having concessions will hurt everybody,” said Williams.