The options are on the table and now it’s a waiting game.
After Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order on Monday extended the prohibition prohibited on contact sports until Aug. 29, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) presented four options for the Board of Control to consider during Wednesday’s meeting and the board is scheduled to vote on which plan to use on July 8.
If the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations go down the order can be rescinded and the season will go on as scheduled. Also, the TSSAA has asked Lee to put high school athletics in the same category as college and pro sports, which are exempt from the executive order.
But assuming Lee neither grants an exemption nor the virus cases go down, the earliest the season can start is Sept. 18 with practice starting on Aug. 30.
The board will consider on July 8 four options for football season, according to the TSSAA, all of which assume the executive order expires on Aug. 29 and is not extended again. The options are:
• Practice would begin on Aug. 30 with the first game on Sept. 18. All regular season schedules for schools would be replaced by the state office with a seven-week region schedule for all schools. Playoffs would be conducted as usual, but schools that do not make the playoffs would be able to play two extra games after the regular season.
• Practice could begin on Aug. 30 with the first game on Sept. 18. All regular season schedules for schools would be replaced by the state office with an eight-week region schedule. The regular season would extend into Week 12 and the first-round of the playoffs would be eliminated (only region champions and runners-up would qualify). Teams that do not qualify for the playoffs would be able to play two extra games after the regular season.
• Practice would begin on Aug. 30 with the first game on Sept. 18. Schools would keep their current schedule and begin play with the Week 5 game on Sept. 18. Games scheduled against member schools for Week 3 would be played in Week 12. Games scheduled against member schools for Week 4 would be played in Week 13. Only region champions would advance to the playoffs beginning in Week 14. Schools that do not qualify for the playoffs would be able to play one extra game.
• Cancel playoffs and championships. Start practice on Aug. 30. Schools play games as scheduled beginning with Week 5 games on Sept. 18. Move games against member schools from Weeks 1-4 to Weeks 12-15.
McMinn County Football Coach Bo Cagle and Meigs County Coach Jason Fitzgerald could not be reached for comment. McMinn Central Coach Derrick Davis likes option No. 2, which is the eight game schedule with the top two teams in each region making the playoffs.
“I think they are all good options,” Davis said. “There isn’t a big difference between them aside from how many make the playoffs. I’m kind of in the middle, if you are not one of the top two teams then you need to be finding a couple of extra games.”
In the top three options those who don’t make the playoffs can seek either one or two extra games.
The Tennessee Coaches Association emailed surveys to the state’s football coaches and will present the findings to the TSSAA. The board, however, is under no obligation to vote the same way most of the coaches vote.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they went with the seven-game season and four make the playoffs,” Davis said. “I actually talked to a coach that said that’s what he voted for. It wasn’t an argument, I just said that I went with the two (playoff teams per region). If that’s the case, then that’s OK. I’m just glad we’ve got three options to choose from and I’m ready to go. We want everybody to be safe.”
No matter what option the TSSAA goes with Davis wants everybody to be safe. He hopes everyone does their part to help control the virus so that fall sports can start.
“I don’t mean to be doom and gloom, but if the numbers (of coronavirus cases) don’t improve, what are we going to be saying a month from now, Davis said. “There is going to come a point where we aren’t going to have a season, we are going to run out of time. I hope people follow the guidelines and we get the season in.”
Davis said it would be a shame not to have the season.
“Me personally, this is a good senior class with good character and my second year with them, and I’d like them to go out with a season,” Davis said. “All athletes, you put this much time and effort into it, you’d like to get to play some games.”
For now, teams can still get back to practice like they did before the TSSAA-mandated dead period. But it is mostly conditioning and weightlifting.
Under the executive order, there can be no gatherings of more than 10 people and the TSSAA has banned all scrimmages against opposing teams, meaning 7-on-7 passing leagues typically held in July are prohibited.
That means players will be doing a lot of running and lifting weights until Aug. 30.
“You are limited in what you can do, but you try to get them doing different things to keep them interested,” Davis said. “That’s on us as coaches to have some different things. I got tired of doing the same old thing myself being in charge of it so I know the kids are. We are going to have to be self-motivated and maybe we can help motivate them and make it fun, get creative and have a little fun within the guidelines.”
Obviously, the best thing to happen is for the state to gain control of the virus and the fall season starts on time. But failing that Davis likes what’s on the table.
“I don’t agree with everything the TSSAA does, but to lose the amount of time we have had, these are some pretty good options,” Davis said.