TSSAA delays decision on start to prep football season

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ South Pittsburg's Hunter Frame (4) awaits the kickoff surrounded by the smoke of the Pirate ship. The South Pittsburg Pirates hosted the Gordonsville Tigers in the quarter finials of the TSSAA Class A football championships on November 22, 2019.

The forecast for high school football season in Tennessee remains cloudy.

The wait to decide when the 2020 schedule can kick off will have to continue after the TSSAA Board of Control voted Wednesday to delay its decision on whether to implement one of four proposals that were presented last week.

After the start of the meeting was delayed by 22 minutes while the board was in executive session, which is closed to the public, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress quickly recommended the board delay the vote based on conversations with Gov. Bill Lee's legal counsel.

"The governor's legal counsel stated that they need time to observe the data and work with us," Childress said. "There will come a time when we will have to make a decision on a contingency plan, but right now it is our opinion that we need to give their legal team the opportunity to see if it is needed in girls' soccer and football."

Under each of the four proposals, football teams would be allowed to begin practicing in pads Aug. 30 and the regular season would kick off Sept. 18. That is about one month later for both the practice date as well as the start of the season than what was originally scheduled prior to Gov. Lee's order to extend the state of emergency by 60 days.

Whether any of those proposals will eventually be voted on likely rests on if Gov. Lee allows the TSSAA to join in-state college and professional teams, which are exempt from his executive order. The TSSAA did not say when an announcement could be made to clarify when the season can begin.

The decision was met with frustration and anger by many coaches in the Chattanooga area who hoped to have a timeline for how to move forward with practice plans as well as the regular-season schedule. That frustration was compounded by the fact that the main high school associations in both Alabama and Georgia recently announced they will allow football teams to follow their original schedule for practice and the start of the season.

"Does the TSSAA even care about high school football? I'm so dang frustrated right now I can't even see straight," said Howard coach John Starr, who was a longtime head coach in Georgia before taking over the Hustlin' Tigers. "I want an answer and I want it now! They're sitting back and nobody has a plan. I've never seen anything like this. Somebody needs to step up!

"We're sitting here on the Georgia state line, and with schools in that state having been told their season is moving along as scheduled, we're worried about losing players who will want to transfer there before we get word on when our season is going to start. Kids just want to know that they can play."

A smaller collection of area coaches, however, said they hoped that not announcing a decision meant the governor's office could be preparing to allow the TSSAA to be exempted from his executive order that extended the state of emergency through Aug. 29. If that happens, teams would be allowed to go back to their original practice schedule as well as resume their original schedule for the season.

"Their legal counselors are well aware of the TSSAA sports calendar, and we will work to get an answer as soon as we can," Childress said. "TSSAA will not be making any further comment as the discussions with the governor's legal counsel are ongoing.

"If we have any chance of having fall sports, we encourage everyone to wear a mask, maintain physical distancing and wash hands to help everyone reach the goal of getting the numbers down. The return on that investment would be that we do get to have fall sports on time this year."

Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected] or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

photo Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Cannon smoke from the South Pittsburg football team's pirate ship lingers on the field at Beene Stadium before kickoff against Gordonsville in a TSSAA Class AA state quarterfinal on Nov. 22, 2019.