TSSAA approves schedule plan for prep football

Photo by Cade Deakin / McCallie football players run onto the field before a home playoff game against Ensworth Tigers last Nov. 22.

After weeks of discussion and delay, the TSSAA Board of Control passed a plan for the start of high school football in Tennessee during Wednesday's meeting at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro.

The plan is set up to try to keep as much of the season intact as possible and includes a contingency on whether Gov. Bill Lee decides to exempt the TSSAA from his state of emergency order. Under that order, which was extended in late June to remain in effect through Aug. 29, prep football teams are not allowed to conduct practices with contact between players or begin playing regular-season games.

If Gov. Lee were to exempt the TSSAA before Aug. 3, then the season would be played as originally scheduled with 10 regular-season games and a full five weeks of playoffs.

However, because TSSAA regulations require teams to practice in pads for three weeks before playing their first game, for each week after Aug. 3 that the governor has not exempted the TSSAA, then a sliding scale would be used that eliminates nonregion games from teams' schedules.

The original start date for the season was Aug. 21, so if the governor has not given an exemption by Aug. 4, then in order for teams to get in their three weeks of padded practice, the first week of the regular season would be pushed back one week and all nonregion games that were supposed to be played in week one would be eliminated. Region games would be moved to the end of a team's regular-season schedule because those must be played in order to determine playoff positioning.

The sliding scale would continue by eliminating all nonregion games in week two if the governor has not issued an exemption by Aug. 10, and if practice has not begun by Aug. 17, then the playoff field for all six public-school classifications would be cut from 32 to 16 teams, with only the region champion and runner-up of each region advancing to the postseason.

"Looking at the big picture, this is the best of all worlds in that it maintains the possibility of having a normal schedule, full regular season and playoffs, for as long as possible," TSSAA assistant director Matthew Gillespie said. "Once the adjustments have to be made, you lose the minimum games possible. This is the option most coaches were in favor of. It does not force schools to go out and scramble to schedule nonregion games."

Also on Wednesday, the Alabama High School Athletic Association announced it plans to allow teams to move forward as originally scheduled, with the regular season kicking off on Aug. 20. Earlier this week, the Georgia High School Association announced it would allow practice to continue as originally scheduled but delayed the start of the season for its football teams by two weeks.

Most Chattanooga-area coaches were just glad to finally have a plan to go by after weeks of frustration of not knowing when the season or padded practices could begin.

"It's a good move by the TSSAA because they gave us a chance to get the maximum number of games in that we can," East Hamilton coach Grant Reynolds said. "I appreciate that. It really is the best of a bad situation, and at least now we can start making plans for our season."

Additionally, the board also approved 12 regulations that must be followed by all fall sports teams until further notice.

Those include required temperature checks for all coaches, players and team personnel prior to every practice. Anyone whose temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees must be sent home immediately and cannot return to practice until they have documentation they have tested negative for COVID-19 or obtained a medical evaluation by a physician verifying that COVID-19 is not the cause of the fever.

No scrimmages, jamborees, 7-on-7 practices or other types of practices with other teams will be permitted. Team-versus-team competition can take place only for official contests.

At all contests, coaches, players, team personnel, officials, administrators and fans must have their temperature checked before entering the facility. No one whose temperature measures 100.4 or higher will be admitted. Also at each contest, a symptom checklist must be posted prominently at each entrance for spectators.

At contests in localities where spectators are permitted, member schools are encouraged to limit attendance to a number that will allow social distancing and should designate bleachers or seats in order to promote physical spacing among spectators. Member schools will require all fans to wear facial coverings at all times and to maintain social distancing, and this also applies to school bands, cheerleaders and other similar groups in supporting roles.

Concession stands are discouraged because they tend to invite gatherings of people in close quarters.

The board also tabled a vote on reclassification and will pick up that discussion during its scheduled August meeting.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.