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Photo by Cade Deakin / The East Ridge Pioneers run onto the field before a home game against Signal Mountain last Sept. 27.

In football terms, the TSSAA has handed the ball off to Gov. Bill Lee.

Since the governor announced in late June that he was extending Tennessee's state of emergency order through Aug. 29, high school football season has been on hold. With teams not being allowed to have contact practices while under that order, frustration regarding an uncertain timeline had become rampant statewide among coaches, players, parents and fans.

So on Wednesday afternoon, knowing the TSSAA cannot override the governor's order but wanting to find a way to salvage as much of the season as possible, the Board of Control voted in a proposal that has enough flexibility to change depending on what the governor decides.

Under the approved plan, if Gov. Lee announces he is granting an exemption to the TSSAA — similar to what he has given to in-state college and professional teams — by Aug. 4, then the regular season would kick off as originally scheduled on Aug. 21.

But for each week that passes without an exemption, the TSSAA's plan will use a sliding scale that will begin eliminating nonregion games from the first two weeks of the regular season. At worst, teams will play an eight-game season in which only the top two teams from each region advance to the playoffs and there would be one less round in the playoffs.

The sliding scale portion of the plan also takes the pressure off coaches who would've had to scramble to make out a new nonregion schedule, a scenario that would've been the scheduling equivalent of a land rush with coaches frantically trying to fill open dates. Under the new plan, every game that is scheduled past week two will remain intact.

Realizing they could not delay a decision any further, as the board did earlier this month, the TSSAA tossed the hot potato back into the governor's hands with Wednesday's plan, leaving it up to his office to decide when the season can begin.

If the number of calls and emails that came into the TSSAA office over the past few weeks are any indication of how much people in this state care about high school sports, Gov. Lee's office should prepare for a stream of correspondence from his constituency inquiring whether he intends to allow the ball to be teed up and ready for kickoff before Labor Day, or if Tennessee is going to start its football season later than any other state in the Deep South.

Alabama quickly moved to announce on Wednesday that it will begin its football season as scheduled, the same as Florida, while the prep associations in Georgia and Mississippi have said they will have a two-week delay to the start of the season.

So while a level of frustration still remains — rightfully so for the thousands of folks who believe the start of the season should not be pushed back into the third week of September — the good news is that at least there is a plan for a season to take place.

After watching the heartbreaking situation that played out in the spring, when so many prep athletes lost the boys' and girls' basketball state tournaments as well as the entire spring sports season, any plan that puts student-athletes back on the field is one we can all accept this year.

"As an administrator, I can promise you that we need sports to be played," said Soddy-Daisy principal Steve Henry, who also represents the Chattanooga area on the TSSAA Board of Control. "The kids need some normalcy back, and any administrator will tell you that football sets the tone for the whole school year. Some folks may not like to hear that, but it does. When you have a good football season, there are fewer disciplinary issues and things just run smoother in the hallways.

"Sports is an extension of the classroom. There's a lot of lessons that get taught on the practice and game field, so I'm really proud of the way our high school organization has worked so hard over the past few weeks to come up with an option that tries to keep as much of the season in place as possible."

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Times Free Press sports editor Stephen Hargis

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

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