By Maurice Patton
So there’s a plan.
Unless the plan changes.
During a specially called meeting Wednesday, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Board of Control voted to play an eight-game regular-season football schedule – based on teams’ originally established schedules — beginning Sept. 18, followed by a four-week postseason with the top two teams from each Division I region advancing into a 16-team playoff bracket. Non-playoff qualifiers will be allowed to play an additional two games.
The setup is the second of four options put forth by the TSSAA state office earlier this month, and will be applicable as long as Governor Bill Lee’s extension of his COVID-19 State of Emergency executive order remains in place as written.
The executive order is currently in place until Aug. 29, meaning ‘high-risk contact sports’ – specifically, football and girls soccer – cannot begin full-scale practice until Aug. 30. Should an exemption be granted for high school sports, the regular season, originally set to begin Aug. 17, would start sooner than Sept. 18.
“If we start practice by Aug. 3, we’re good” for an Aug. 17 start, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said.
Determining a contingency plan seems to address concerns expressed by football coaches across the state looking for a defined path to play this fall.
“Coaches are notorious planners. They want to know ‘when I start’,” said veteran Fulton boys basketball coach and Board of Control member Jody Wright during the meeting.
For all the planning, though, the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic still leaves much in doubt.
“At this point, with school and sports – tell me what we’re doing and I’ll be OK with it,” Columbia Central football coach Jason Hoath said following the meeting.
The football contingency plan was the final agenda item for a meeting that also defined pandemic-related regulations for competition for the 2020-21 school year, as well as setting a contingency plan for girls soccer play this fall.
Barring an exemption from the governor, girls soccer regular-season play would begin Sept. 7, with the state tournament set for Nov. 11-14. Teams that do not qualify for the postseason or are eliminated from the postseason would be allowed to schedule additional contests.
The Board also clarified that students taking classes virtually will be athletically eligible at their schools
At the meeting’s onset, a number of guidelines were suggested for all sports — most immediately, volleyball, golf and cross country — by the TSSAA state office. The guidelines, established in collaboration with the governor’s office and with the sports medicine advisory council of the National Federation of State High School Associations are intended to “mitigate risk surrounding practice, surrounding contests, knowing the games themselves are a risk,” Childress said.
“This is not ‘TSSAA vs. the governor’s office,” Childress stressed. “Everything’s been a joint effort. I don’t want it put out there that we are in conflict. We continue to work in partnership with them.”
Among the guidelines, which were voted on and accepted by the Board of Control, are:
— COVID screenings will be required for all coaches, players and team personnel prior to participating in practice; anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will be sent home, not to return until they have tested negatively for COVID or can provide verification from a doctor that COVID is not the cause of their fever;
— No scrimmages, jamborees, 7-on-7 competition or other practice with another team will be allowed. There will be no competition against another team until the first official contest;
— For contests, all participants and fans must have a temperature check before entering the facility; anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will be denied access;
— Member schools are encouraged to limit fan attendance to a number that will allow physical/social distancing (preferably one-fourth to one-third of typical capacity);
— Member schools will require facial masks to be worn at all times on site, excepting children under the age of 2;
— Bands, cheerleaders other student groups and anyone in ‘supporting roles’ will be subject to the same temperature checks and social distancing expectations;
— When possible, public service announcements reminding those in attendance of mask and social distancing expectations should be made;
— Concession stands are discouraged;
— All coaches must complete a COVID-19 online course currently available through the National Federation.
These regulations will apply for the entire school year, Childress said, because “whenever (Lee) lifts his order – the pandemic will still be in place.”
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mopatton_sports.