The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) on Wednesday presented its Board of Control with four options that will be mulled over for playing an abbreviated football schedule this fall.
The TSSAA’s recommendations come 48 hours after Gov. Bill Lee surprised most by extending Tennessee’s coronavirus state of emergency for 60 days, which means high school sports activities are off-limits until at least August 29.
The first two sports that will be impacted by the governor’s ruling will be football and girls soccer, which typically begin practice at the beginning of August with games beginning three weeks later. The other two fall sports, golf and cross country, will not be impacted.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress told the Board of Control on Wednesday that restructuring the girls soccer season to begin after the governor’s executive order is set to expire on August 29 will not be as difficult as moving football season.
“If the governor’s order expires August 29, we can extend the season and have the state tournament later,” Childress said, adding that it would allow coaches to reschedule the games that will be missed in August and still have a full season.
Girls soccer doesn’t currently overlap the girls basketball season, while football does overlap the boys basketball season. However, a question presented by the BOC is how a delayed season would affect players who join club teams after the high school soccer season is finished.
As for football, Childress presented the BOC four options to consider. Among them:
• Option 1: Practice begins on August 30, the season begins on September 18, with seven regular season games and playoffs beginning on time. Teams not making the playoffs could play two extra games after the regular season ends.
• Option 2: Practice begins August 30, the season begins on September 18, with eight regular season games and a 16-team bracket (with only the top two teams in each region making the playoff, as opposed to four). Teams not making the playoffs could play two additional games after the regular season ends.
• Option 3: Practice starts August 30, the season begins September 18, with nine regular season games and an 8-team playoff bracket, with only the region champions making the playoffs. Teams not making the playoffs could play one additional game after the regular season ends.
• Option 4: Play a full 10-game season with no playoffs and no champions crowned. Teams would play five games, then pick up five more games to finish out the season.
The last option appears to have little support from the get-go, likely meaning the BOC will choose from one of the first three options.
The BOC did not make a determination on either football or girls soccer today.
Other options that had been on the table included flip-flopping fall and spring sports by moving baseball and softball — which are not contact sports — to the fall and moving football to the spring. However, Childress said he was not in favor of that move — which had the support of about 15% of the state’s coaches — because spring sports had already lost one season and might lose another if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t ebb by fall.
Still another option would have been similar to what is being implemented in Virginia, with no sports until December, and everything pushed back after that, with the spring sports state championships ending in late June 2021. About 20% of the state’s coaches preferred that option.
Childress also revealed that TSSAA has asked the governor’s office to consider putting TSSAA in the same category as colleges and professional teams. They are exempt from the governor’s order, meaning the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Titans will not see their seasons interrupted if the NCAA and NFL go forward with a 2020 season. Adding TSSAA to the exemption would allow high schools to start contact practices on time.
“We can’t do what the NCAA and pro teams are doing in terms of testing,” Childress said, adding that coronavirus tests are $100 each, and the state’s high schools cannot afford that. But, he said, “competition and other things, we feel we can do it just as good as they can.”
The governor’s office is reportedly considering TSSAA’s request.
Lee’s executive order came as the spread of coronavirus continued to increase in Tennessee. As of Tuesday there were more than 15,000 active cases of the virus across the state, and hospitalizations are at an all-time high, even as the rate of hospitalization has dropped to about 4% of diagnosed cases of the virus. So far there has not been an increase in the number of people dying from the virus in Tennessee, though the number of hospitalizations suggests that an increase in deaths will occur in the days ahead.