TSSAA delays vote on fall season

Loudon High School receiver Semy Turner sprints down the field last season in the Redskins’ 37-0 win over the Sweetwater High School Wildcats.

High school football and girls soccer coaches and athletes will have to wait a little while longer before hearing a decision on how the fall season will play out.

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Board of Control delayed a vote July 8 that would have set a timetable for the start of football and girls soccer. The vote also would have determined a statewide alternative schedule format for the football season.

“I think we always expected something more definitive instead of more waiting or ambiguity, so at the moment I was listening, I was upset that we didn’t get an answer,” Jeff Cortez, Lenoir City High School head football coach, said. “As the dust settled and I had a chance to listen to other people talk, we’re waiting, hopefully, to see if the governor will put us in the same spot as the NCAA and professional sports in the state. Whatever direction we want to go, we’ve got to make that decision. I think that’s part of my frustration is hurry up the wait.”

Gov. Bill Lee on June 29 extended the statewide State of Emergency order through Aug. 29, which means contact sports are not allowed to have physical practices, scrimmages, exhibitions or games.

Bernard Childress, TSSAA executive director, said more information was needed from Lee’s office before making a decision.

“We have had lengthy discussions with the governor’s legal council in the governor’s office,” Childress said. “Based on our conversations that we’re having, we think that right now it’s best to delay any vote on a contingency plan. The governor’s council stated to us that they needed time to look and watch the data and work with our staff. There will come a time when we have to make a decision on a contingency plan.

“But right now, it’s our opinion that we need to give their legal team the opportunity to see if it’s even needed in girls soccer and football,” he added. “Their legal team is very aware of our sports calendar and when we would normally start. We will continue to work to get an answer as soon as we can from them. We still have some time. And as one of their legal council said to us, ‘Let’s hope for the best, and we need to prepare for the worst.’ We have the plans. It’s not necessary to make that decision today. We need to give them the opportunity to do what they need to do and watch the data.”

On July 1, TSSAA Board of Control met to discuss four options for the football season. Option one includes a seven-game regular season with five weeks of playoff games.

Option two, which has been favored among most coaches, would include an eight-game regular season with four weeks of playoff games in which only region champions and runners-up would qualify.

Option three would be a nine-game regular season with three weeks of playoffs. In that scenario, only region champions would qualify for the postseason.

Option four proposes a five-game regular season with no postseason. This option would be a last-resort decision and is the least favored among coaches.

Jeff Harig, Loudon High School head football coach, has concerns about how the remainder of the offseason will play out.

“This isn’t helping any since we haven’t done any 7-on-7, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to have a scrimmage season,” he said. “So they may have to be asked to show what they’ve got Aug. 21 when we’re playing that first game of the season, or even as late as if we’re playing Sept. 18. As football coaches, that makes us uneasy. A lot of coaches are in that same boat — they’ve got a lot of unanswered questions. It’s not just conducive to the Loudon Redskins, it’s for everybody and I’m OK with that.”

On Monday, TSSAA released official regulations on how practice should be conducted for fall sports.

Scrimmages and 7-on-7s are not permitted, but teams can start a five-day heat acclimation period with helmets and pads beginning July 20. Practices cannot include activities or drills that involve “sustained close proximity or close contact between participants.”

“The question in my mind is if we’re going to kick off at the end of August, have we had enough time to prepare our bodies for contact?” Cortez said. “I’m crossing my fingers because there’s just so many what-ifs and maybes. I have no idea what (the season) is going to look like because, again, there’s no direction right now. We’re still waiting for someone else to make a decision. The state office isn’t, and I realize there’s more than just Mr. Childress making decisions, but nobody asked me my opinion on what should happen.”

In unrelated news, TSSAA Board of Control passed legislation for each affiliated school to receive two fully-automated cameras and production units courtesy of the National Federation of State High School Associations and Pixellot.

The cameras will allow schools to provide online streaming for football and other sports through the NFHS Network.