The Tennessee Secondary School Athletics Association finally has a contingency plan in place for the two fall contact sports — football and girls soccer — that will be impacted by Gov. Bill Lee’s state of emergency.
The TSSAA Board of Control voted to approve those contingency plans on Wednesday, July 22. They will take effect if the governor’s executive order implementing the state of emergency is not lifted, or if high school sports are not exempted from the no-contact order as college and professional sports have been, in time for the sports season to begin on time. The executive order is currently scheduled to expire on August 29.
If the governor’s executive order is still in place as of August 10, the girls soccer contingency plan will kick in. The regular season will essentially be bumped back two weeks, with the first games beginning the week of September 7. The state championships would be bumped back two weeks, as well, and be played November 11-14.
That move would allow the girls soccer regular season to maintain its current length of 10 weeks. Schools that do not play the maximum number of games allowed by TSSAA before being eliminated from the postseason would be permitted to schedule additional games.
For football, the Board of Control voted for Option 2 that was presented by TSSAA earlier this month — an 8-game regular season with the number of playoff qualifiers slashed in half from 32 to 16. However, the board also adopted a so-called hybrid plan that was unveiled by TSSAA just days ago.
Option 2 assumes that Gov. Lee’s executive order will not be lifted in whole or for high school sports teams prior to August 29. There will be three weeks of practice beginning August 30, with the first games being played on September 18. TSSAA will set teams’ region schedules, and coaches will then be charged with quickly filling out the remainder of their schedule with non-region games. Current home-and-home contracts between non-region opponents that are in their second year will be canceled. In each public school classification, the region champion and region runner-up will qualify for the playoffs. Teams that do not qualify for the playoffs will be allowed to schedule two additional games.
The hybrid option adopted by the Board of Control on Wednesday will kick in conditionally if Gov. Lee’s executive order is lifted early, preventing there from being several weeks wasted before the first football games on September 18.
Under the hybrid option, there will still be three weeks of practice before the first games. If the governor’s executive order is lifted prior to August 3, the season will move forward as currently scheduled. If the governor’s executive order is lifted after August 3 and the first week of the schedule is lost, TSSAA will reschedule the region games that are to be played that week — there are only three of them statewide — and teams will play the last nine weeks of the regular season without change. If the executive order is lifted after August 3 and the first two weeks of the schedule are lost, TSSAA will reschedule the region games that are to be played those weeks — there are 13 across the state in Week 2 — and teams will play the final eight weeks of the season without change. If the third week of the season is lost, which is when most teams begin region play, the entire season will be scrapped, and TSSAA will reschedule region games with coaches left to find non-region games to fill out the 8-game schedule before the playoffs begin.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress revealed before Wednesday’s vote by the Board of Control that a poll of the state’s coaches and administrators revealed that Option 2 was the plan favored by most.
Regulations for practices and games
Prior to the Wednesday’s votes on the contingency plans for girls soccer and football, the Board of Control adopted a 12-point resolution implementing regulations governing practices and contests for all sports this school year.
The regulations take place immediately, including for teams that are already practicing, although contact teams are limited to non-contact conditioning and drills until Gov. Lee’s executive order expires.
Among the points:
- Temperature checks are required for all coaches, players and team personnel members prior to the start of every practice. “That’s every single day, (and) whoever is involved in that team party,” Childress said. Anyone whose temperature is 100.4 or greater must leave without participating in practice, and cannot return until they have documentation of a negative Covid-19 test, or until they have a physician’s explanation that Covid-19 was not the cause of their fever.
- Players or coaches who are sick cannot attend practice. At least weekly, coaches are required to screen all participants for medical symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, shaking or chills, chest pain or pressure, fatigue, rapid heart rate, unusual dizziness, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, nausea or vomiting or diarrhea, unusual rashes or painful discoloration of fingers. Anyone who answers yes to any of those symptoms cannot participate. Additionally, participants must be screened for moderate or severe asthma. Finally, anyone who has had a household family member who has tested positive for Covid-19, or who has been exposed to anyone testing positive for Covid-19, within the past 14 days cannot participate.
- No teams will be permitted to participate in jamborees, scrimmages or 7-on-7 competitions during the preseason. “If we’re going to have any semblance of a season, we need to mitigate the risk as much as possible,” Childress said.
- For games, TSSAA is requesting — but not requiring — schools to limit fan attendance so that social distancing protocols can be maintained. For most venues, that would mean that attendance could be limited to as much as one-third or even one-fourth of its maximum capacity. In areas with high transmission of the virus, TSSAA is also urging further limitations — such as only family members of coaches and student-athletes being permitted to attend games, or for there to be no fan participation at all.
- Additionally, TSSAA is requesting but not requiring that concession stands be eliminated. “Again, this is one that we’re not mandating … but you know that this tends to invite gathering of people in close quarters,” Childress said, adding that schools that do operate concession stands will be asked to limit the number of concession stand workers, encourage call-in orders if possible, and require all workers to wear masks.
- All fans attending games where attendance is permitted will be required to wear masks and have their temperature checked before entering the venue. Symptom checklist signs will be prominently displayed, and any fan who answers yes to any of the symptom screenings conducted of players and coaches will not be permitted to attend.
- Coaches are being required to take an NFHS Covid-19 training course.
Separately at Wednesday’s meeting, the Board of Control voted to allow schools to participate in the sports seasons even if they elect to go the virtual route for the 2020-2021 school year.
“We feel like if they’re enrolled and taking classes from that school, those kids should at least be given the opportunity to participate,” Childress said, “because they’re enrolled and they’re going to school. They aren’t physically in school but they’re doing the work.
“Through all of this we just have to help people as much as we possibly can,” he added.
In the event of a positive case of Covid-19 being found in a student-athlete or a coach, the entire team will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks, meaning any games scheduled in that two-week period cannot be played. Those games will officially go down as no-contest decisions, with no winner and no loser. However, for postseason seeding purposes, the team that could not play because someone on the opposing team was sick would be awarded a win. That means that, in the postseason, if a team cannot play because it is being quarantined, that playoff game will be forfeited and the opposing team will move on.