TSSAA delays start of fall season

Loudon High School football players and fans celebrate last season following the Redskins’ 28-7 win over the Lenoir City High School Panthers.

The 2020 high school fall sports calendar is facing a major shakeup following the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s decision June 29 to delay the start of the fall season for football and girls soccer.

The announcement comes on the heels of Gov. Bill Lee’s extension of the statewide COVID-19 State of Emergency order that will run through Aug. 29.

“While the governor’s order is in place, member schools cannot have any competition or scrimmage with other schools and cannot have close contact activities during their fundamental practice in the sports of football, 7-on-7 football, girls soccer, wrestling and basketball,” Bernard Childress, TSSAA executive director, said in a release.

Cross country, golf and volleyball will be allowed to start on time because they are not categorized as contact sports.

The football season was slated to start Aug. 21.

“Based on the extension of the governor’s order, football and girls soccer cannot begin their seasons as originally scheduled,” Childress said. “We are in the process of developing regular season and postseason options to present to the TSSAA Board of Control for their consideration. The board will ultimately make the decision as to how this will impact the postseason and if any adjustments can be made to regular season competition.”

On July 1, Childress proposed four options for the football season. The board met again today after News-Herald presstime to vote for an option.

“I’d say the No. 1 thing I was worried about and wanted answered is the TSSAA all on the same page, promoting and trying to do their best to establish sports again, and I think they are,” Jeff Harig, Loudon High School head football coach, said. “They did the best they could in light of the information they got, which was very unexpected. I was impressed and very thankful that the TSSAA is going to do what they can to make sure we have a season if they can.”

The first option is to play a seven-game regular season with a 32-team playoff in each classification remaining intact, which would begin Nov. 6. TSSAA would set all teams’ region schedules, and teams that do not qualify for the playoffs would be permitted to play two additional games.

The second option is to play an eight-game regular season with the number of playoff teams limited to 16 in each classification, which means the top two teams in each region would advance to the playoffs. TSSAA would also set all teams’ region schedules, and all non-playoff teams would be permitted to play two extra games.

“The one that I think is the most logical because it gives you four home games and four away games, a chance to make the playoffs and if you don’t make the playoffs you can schedule two more games is option two,” Harig said. “I think that’s the most logical plan and gives everybody the best of both worlds with the regular season and the playoffs.”

The third option is to play a nine-game regular season with only region champions qualifying for the playoffs to make an eight-team bracket in each classification. Teams would keep teir current schedules and non-playoff teams would be allowed to play one extra game.

The fourth option is to eliminate the playoffs and not crown a champion in any division. Teams would begin the adjusted season with their week 5 games Sept. 18 and move the first four scheduled games to weeks 12-15.

Numerous coaches throughout the state have voiced disproval of the fourth option.

Greenback head football coach Greg Ryan is in favor of delaying the start of the season to the week of Sept. 18 and pushing all 10 regular season and playoff games back through mid-December.

“I wasn’t crazy about any of these options because to me, they’re not truly options in my opinion but rather they were options to change the structure of how high school football is played this year, not necessarily when the best option would be to play,” he said. “We had first gotten an option of in your opinion, should football be delayed? In your opinion, should we switch spring and fall?”

Ryan believes options two or three would be the most viable.

“There’s lots of coaches that’s voted for option two because it sounds very reasonable, and there’s lots of guys that have voted for option three because it gives the kid the most regular season games,” Ryan said. “I’ve bounced back and forth myself, but I think at the end of the day you’ve got to think about the kids and allow them to play as many football games as possible.

“At least in option two there’s two teams that go to the playoffs, you’re still playing your three rounds and then teams that don’t make the playoffs have the options to play bowl games or whatever afterwards,” he added. “Once again, I’m not pumped about any one of the options.”

Girls soccer in questionChildress also addressed questions concerning the 2020 girls soccer season, which he believes should be delayed two weeks.

The proposal would allow teams to complete the season. Childress said teams do not have to play all district opponents in order to qualify for their respective district tournaments.

“I’m fine with the delay as long as we can get the majority of the season in,” Sam Harrison, LHS girls soccer coach, said. “My biggest concern right now is are they going to start us back Aug. 29? Are they going to expect us to immediately begin competitions Sept. 1 without some full-contact practices? That’s a big concern of mine from a coaching standpoint.”

Harrison relies on two-a-day practices and camps each summer to help prepare for the upcoming season.

He believes TSSAA should mandate a short, full-contact acclimation period.

“A program like mine, we’ve got a lot of new girls to the program every year,” he said. “We don’t know what they can do under pressure. Can they handle traffic, invite pressure and those kinds of things? I think just from the standpoint of Aug. 29 gets here and then all of a sudden they just get into the season, I would like for them to implement at least two or three weeks of regular practices.”

Coaches are hopeful to receive clarity in coming weeks as they continue to uphold social-distancing guidelines and take necessary precautions during practice.

“We’re just going to continue what we’ve been doing,” Harrison said. “I think we have been very cautious and have been diligent in our approach with the practices we’ve had so far. We’ve taken all the precautions, and I would challenge any other program out there that’s done it better than we have.

“I think we’re just going to continue with that and focus on conditioning and focus on some other technical aspects of the game,” he added. “This virus situation changes daily, and I’m just hoping and praying that we see the numbers really start to decline over the next few weeks. Maybe we can get to a point where we’re in full-contact practices before that Aug. 29 date.”