The TSSAA on Wednesday gave its Board of Control members four options for how to proceed with the 2020 football season, which will not start on time as a result of the state’s COVID-19 State of Emergency being extended earlier this week.
On Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the extension of the emergency order through Aug. 29. Part of the order restricts high school teams to participate in contact sports.
On Tuesday, the TSSAA announced all member schools would abide by the order, which means the start of the regular seasons for football and girls soccer would be delayed by two weeks.
Other fall sports volleyball, cross country and golf are not affected by the order because they are not viewed as contact sports. Their seasons will begin and proceed as scheduled.
On Wednesday, TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress proposed to the BOC that the simple solution for girls soccer is for the start of the season to be delayed by two weeks and that it still be played in its entirety.
Because football season goes longer, Childress said to the BOC, the schedule needs to be altered. He offered four options for the BOC members to discuss with their local administrators.
The BOC will reconvene today (July 8) for more discussion and to vote on an option.
All four options are based on the idea that the governor’s emergency order expires on Aug. 29 and that teams can begin contact practices on Aug. 30. In that case, the first game of the regular season would take place on Sept. 18.
The first option is to play a seven-game regular season with the 32-team playoffs in each classification remaining intact and begin on Nov. 6. In this option, the TSSAA would set all teams’ region schedules, and teams that do not qualify for the playoffs would be permitted to play two extra games.
The second option is to play an eight-game regular season with the number of playoff teams limited to 16 in each classification. That would mean only the top two teams in each region advance to the postseason.
The TSSAA would also set all teams’ region schedules with this option, and all non-playoff teams would be permitted to play two extra games.
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. In this option, teams would keep their current schedules, and non-playoff teams would be allowed to play one extra game.
The fourth option is to eliminate the playoffs, and thus not crown any champions. Childress said not much support has been voiced for the fourth option.
While one of the first three options is the most likely way in which the TSSAA will move forward, Childress told the BOC that he has reached out to the Governor’s office to see if there is any way the TSSAA could be added to the same category of pro and college teams in the state — a category that allows them to participate in contact sports.
Childress said his argument is that the TSSAA has the capability to provide the same modifications and same guidelines as the NCAA and even some professional teams in terms of game operations. For example, Childress noted that he was on a conference call with an NCAA doctor on Tuesday.
The most likely reason that option is denied, however, is that TSSAA schools do not have the financial capability of testing all athletes and coaches two days before a game. Each COVID-19 test costs $100.
“We have access to the same individuals,” Childress told the BOC. “We hope to convince the governor’s team that we can do it just as well. We can’t depend on that. We totally understand that.”
No matter the details, Childress said he hopes to have a plan ready to go by the end of July.
In the meantime, once the TSSAA’s dead period ends on Sunday, football and girls soccer teams will be permitted to return to practice on a scaled-down basis. They can lift weights and participate in conditioning and other non-contact fundamental work.
Those limitations will remain through Aug. 29.