Scrap the contingency plans. Tennessee’s high school sports season will start on time.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that he will sign an executive order that includes member schools of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletics Association (TSSAA) from the state of emergency that remains in place until at least August 29. Executive Order 55, once it is signed, will extend the same exceptions that had already been allowed for college and professional sports teams — like the University of Tennessee and the NFL’s Tennessee Titans — to high school teams.
TSSAA had requested the exemption and, as a result, the contingency plans that were adopted by the sanctioning body last week will no longer be needed — assuming the coronavirus outbreak doesn’t worsen enough to force the no-contact order to be reimplemented.
“We appreciate being able to work with Gov. Lee and his staff on this,” said TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress. “I am pleased that we were able to develop some very specific guidelines for every sport that will allow our kids to get out on their fields and fully participate in football and girls’ soccer this fall.”
The governor’s announcement came less than one week after the TSSAA Board of Control adopted stringent measures intended to protect student-athletes and their communities from the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Those regulations will remain in place.
As a result of the governor’s decision, both girls soccer and football will start on time. Girls soccer will be able to start full contest practices as soon as Gov. Lee signs Executive Order 55. The season is slated to begin on August 17.
Football teams will be able to begin full-contact practices after completing the required heat acclimation period, which consists of two days in helmets only and three days in helmets and shoulder pads. The season will begin August 21.
“This is good news for many kids and their families, but the reality is that the virus will continue to be with us and we have to be smart about taming the spread,” Childress said. “Every adult and every participant in every sport must do their part and follow the guidelines set forth by TSSAA and the governor’s office to help mitigate these risks.”
While the sports season will begin on time, it will come with a series of requirements, including:
• Every player, coach and other participant must have his or her temperature checked each day before the start of practice. Anyone with a fever of 100.4 or greater will be required to leave and cannot participate until there’s documentation that they tested negative for Covid-19, or a doctor’s note that coronavirus was not responsible for their symptoms.
• Every participant must undergo a symptoms screening at least weekly that asks for a wide variety of coronavirus symptoms, such as cough, fever, sore throat, and other symptoms.
• Anyone who has a family member at home who has tested positive for coronavirus, or who is otherwise exposed to someone who has tested positive, must sit out 14 days.
• TSSAA is requesting but not requiring schools to limit fan attendance so that social distancing can be maintained at games. For most venues, that would mean one-third to one-fourth of normal capacity. Additionally, in areas with higher transmission rates of the virus, TSSAA is requesting that attendance be limited to parents only, or that fan attendance be eliminated entirely.
• TSSAA is also requesting but not requiring schools to eliminate concession stands. If schools have concession stands, they’re encouraged to provide ways for phone-ahead orders, limit the number of workers, and require all workers to wear masks.
• All fans attending games will be required to wear masks and must have their temperature checked before entering the venue.
Although the games are starting on time, the season is still expected to be disrupted by coronavirus. Teams with active cases of the virus among players or coaches will be required to pause competition — including practices and games — for 14 days. In the event of missed games, the official result will be a no-contest, but for postseason seeding purposes, the team that could not play because its opponent had active cases of the virus will receive a win. In the postseason, if a team has active cases of coronavirus and cannot play, their scheduled opponent will automatically advance.
With sports now officially resuming — at least upon Gov. Lee’s signature — these are the scheduled first games:
• Oneida girls soccer will open the season Monday, Aug. 17 at Knox Webb. The Lady Indians’ first home game will be Thursday, Aug. 20, against Kingston.
• Scott girls soccer will open the season Tuesday, Aug. 18, against Oliver Springs at home before traveling to Livingston on Thursday, Aug. 20. The Lady Indians and Lady Highlanders will square off on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at Oneida Elementary School.
• Oneida football will open the season Friday, Aug. 21 at Oliver Springs. The Indians will travel to York Institute on Aug. 28 before their home opener against Wartburg on Friday, Sept. 4.
• Scott football will open the season Friday, Aug. 21 at Cumberland County. The Highlanders’ first home game will be Aug. 28 against Whitley County, Ky.