High school football and girls soccer teams in the state will face major shakeups this fall.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association met July 22 to discuss contingency plans and regulations for all fall season sports. After extensively reviewing four options for the football season, the board voted in favor of option two with a hybrid plan.
Previously, under option two, the TSSAA would set each team’s region schedules. The head coach of each team would be responsible for filling out the rest of the eight-game regular season.
Under the hybrid’s conditions, there is more scheduling flexibility based on when/if Gov. Bill Lee rescinds the statewide State of Emergency Order, which is set to expire Aug. 29.
The TSSAA’s goal is to have a 10-game regular season and full five weeks of playoffs or have non-region contests rescheduled or moved into open dates if the season starts at a later date.
“The regulations and guidelines the board passed today go into effect immediately for all sports,” Bernard Childress, TSSAA executive director, said. “We’re hopeful that the prohibition on contact sports will be lifted before Aug. 29, but if it’s not, the Board of Control has put some policies in place to help keep our kids and communities safe and lay out a roadmap to the start of our football and girls soccer seasons.”
The situation is still difficult to manage since TSSAA is not able to set a specific start date.
Tennessee high schools and athletics programs, as well as myriad other entities, cannot begin practices and/or games in contact sports under Lee’s current State of Emergency Order. Executive Order No. 50 promotes “social distancing and avoidance of large gatherings” and limits activities in contact sports.
“The governor’s (executive order) is still in place,” Childress said. “We cannot do anything right now other than weightlifting, conditioning, heat acclimation periods with no contact. This is not TSSAA versus the governor’s office. Everything has been a joint effort and we are not in conflict. Our goal is to have an ordinary season as much as possible.”
Per TSSAA, all high school football teams must complete a five-day heat acclimation period and two weeks of practice prior to competition. Schools will play the schedules already in place with as few modifications as necessary.
If Lee’s executive order still stands by Aug. 4, region games originally scheduled for week one of the regular season will be moved to later, common dates TSSAA has already modeled. As each week passes where no contact is allowed, the next week’s region games will be rescheduled.
The plan could potentially eliminate early non-region games, including the Battle of the Bridge rivalry and the rivalry between Greenback and Loudon if teams are not allowed to fully resume by Aug. 10.
Greenback’s non-region opponents this season include Loudon, Meigs County, Oneida and Lenoir City; Lenoir City’s are Heritage, Loudon, Carter, Greenback, Gibbs, Seymour and William Blount; and Loudon’s are Greenback, Lenoir City, Sequoyah and Walker Valley.
“The TSSAA is doing what they can to ensure as much football as we could possibly have, but what affects us personally as a program is when you start missing week one and two for us,” Jeff Harig, LHS head football coach, said. “I personally would have preferred them to just go ahead and say, ‘We’re going to pick one of these three or four options and we’re going to start the season Sept. 18’.”
Lenoir City head football coach Jeff Cortez, along with other area coaches, have expressed frustrations with TSSAA’s handling of the situation.
“My initial reaction was confusion, and I didn’t understand how a plan that was presented to us as coaches the day before or that Monday gets passed the next day,” Cortez said. “I would’ve been fine with just a straight option two. I would’ve been fine looking for games and redoing my schedule. In that scenario, I know for sure I’m playing Loudon, the Battle of the Bridge ... it’s a frustrating process.”
Cortez and LCHS co-athletic director Chris Brittain sent an email of concern Monday to TSSAA Assistant Executive Director Richard McWhirter.
“Apparently they’re now going to help Maryville and Alcoa happen, well we just sent an email saying, ‘We need this game to happen’,” Cortez said. “If we are going to end up playing in December, we’re going to need you guys to help us out. Not only is it a 98-year-old rivalry and all that goes with that game, but here’s something we’ve got to understand is the canned food drive that we have — that’s huge. That’s kind of where we’re at with some of this stuff.”
Should a team suffer an outbreak from COVID-19 during the season, that team will not be allowed to play and will not receive a win or loss. The opposing team for that week will receive a win.
Ronnie Roberts, LHS athletic director, said the administration will “do whatever it takes to give these kids an opportunity.”
“It’s a part of their life they’re never going to get back, and our spring athletes that are seniors lost that part,” he said. “Some people say, ‘Sports, it’s just a game.’ Yeah it’s just a game, but it’s an important part of someone’s life who has played all their life from the time they can remember. For many of them, that senior year, that’s the last time they’re going to have that opportunity. ... I don’t want to see another group of kids go through Loudon High School that has that opportunity taken away if there’s anything that we can do to prevent it.”
Girls soccer delayed
TSSAA Board of Control voted to adopt a contingency plan for the girls soccer regular season, which is now set to start Sept. 7.
The plan delays the season by two weeks. The state championships will be held Nov. 11-14.
In other news, the TSSAA adopted 13 new regulations for all sports for the 2020-21 calendar year effective immediately that include:
• Temperature checks are mandatory for all coaches, players and personnel prior to every practice or contest. If one records a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, they must be sent home and cannot return until they have tested negative for COVID-19 or a physician can prove the temperature is not a result of COVID-19.
• Student athletes enrolled in virtual or online classes will be allowed to participate in practices and competitions.
• Each coach, player and team personnel must pass a brief COVID-19 screening at least once a week prior to any practice or official competition.
• Scrimmages, exhibitions, 7-on-7s and the like are not permitted.
• All players, coaches, team personnel, fans and facility workers will receive temperature checks upon entering the facility for an official contest.
• COVID-19 symptoms lists must be posted and prominently displayed at every athletic facility during a contest.
• Schools are highly recommended to limit fan attendance to a number that will adequately allow for proper social distancing.
• All fans over the age of 2 years old must wear a mask or face covering at all times and maintain at least 6 feet apart while on site during a contest.
• Temperature checks/screenings shall apply to all band members, cheerleaders and student organizations at a contest.
• Announcers are to make multiple announcements throughout the duration of a contest to remind fans to use masks and maintain social distancing guidelines.
• Frequent cleaning and sanitization is encouraged in each athletic facility.
• Concession stands are discouraged, but schools may continue to use them if social-distancing guidelines are properly followed.
• All coaches must complete a free COVID-19 online education course prior to the start of their respective regular season.