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Photo by Cade Deakin / East Ridge football players run onto the field before a game at Signal Mountain on Sept. 27, 2019. The TSSAA Board of Control is set to vote Wednesday on four options for an altered 2020 football season, though hope remains for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to grant an exemption that would allow the schedule to proceed as planned.

Updated with more information at 5:30 p.m. on July 6, 2020.

High school football coaches in the Chattanooga area have a consensus on which of the four proposals for an altered season they would prefer.

Now it's just a matter of whether a majority of the state's athletic programs agree and the TSSAA Board of Control implements that choice.

On the heels of last week's executive order by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to extend the state of emergency through Aug. 29 — after the state experienced a record rise in the number of coronavirus cases — the TSSAA gave its 12-member Board of Control a list of four options to present to the state's coaches on how to proceed with this season amid health concerns. Those board members were asked to gather information from the area each represents and be prepared to vote Wednesday to implement the preferred proposal.

There is, however, a request by the TSSAA to Gov. Lee to allow the state's prep athletic association to be placed in the same category as in-state college and professional teams, which are exempt from the governor's state of emergency order. If granted, it would allow teams to go back to their original practice timeline and season schedule.

A Times Free Press poll of area football coaches resulted in 25 of 31 who responded to a question about that matter saying they were in favor of Gov. Lee allowing prep sports to move into that exempt category and allow teams to resume their regular schedules.

TSSAA assistant director Mark Reeves told the board last week the governor's office had informed him it was considering that request. In the meantime, as the TSSAA and coaches statewide await word on that decision, they still must prepare to vote on the four TSSAA proposals.

While the TSSAA is making plans for a delayed start to football season, the Georgia High School Association has said it will allow teams to continue preparing for the season to kick off as originally planned.

For each of the TSSAA's four proposals, 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 and 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. The options for an altered season are:

No. 1 — A seven-game regular season with the playoffs remaining much the same (top four from each region qualifying and five total postseason rounds). Teams that do not qualify for the playoffs could add two extra regular-season games to complete their schedules.

No. 2 – An eight-game regular season with only the top two teams from each region qualifying for the playoffs. Teams not making the postseason could then add two regular-season games. By cutting back on the number of playoff teams, this option would also eliminate one round of the postseason. Under both of the first two options, the TSSAA would set all teams' region schedules; coaches would be responsible for filling out their remaining nonregion schedules.

No. 3 — A nine-game regular season with only the region champions qualifying for the playoffs. This would cut the playoffs to just three rounds. Teams that miss the playoffs could add one extra game.

No. 4 — Have five region games set by the TSSAA, then add up to five more regular-season games, but there would be no playoffs this year.

Thirty-three coaches responded to the Times Free Press poll concerning a preferred option, with the second option the overwhelming choice at 24 votes, compared to six for No. 1, two for No. 3 and just one vote for No. 4.

"The second option is by far the best," Walker Valley coach Drew Akins said. "It's the closest thing to what we've got now as far as you get eight regular-season games, and if you don't make the playoffs, you can add two more.

"I like the top two teams making the playoffs because then you've got the best teams in it, which should make for some really good playoff games. The top two is enough in a shortened season. There would only be one fewer round for the TSSAA to make its money, too."

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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Walker Valley's Drew Akins is among the overwhelming majority of local football coaches polled by the Times Free Press in wanting an eight-game regular season with the option to add two more games if not one of the top two teams in the region standings that advance to the TSSAA playoffs.

Soddy-Daisy principal Steve Henry, who represents the Chattanooga area on the TSSAA Board of Control, could not give a specific count but said he has received similar feedback.

"My job on the board is to represent what the majority of the coaches in our area tell me they want, and it became clear pretty quick which option our folks favor," Henry said. "I'm not sure about the rest of the state, but after looking at it I wouldn't be surprised if this is the option that a lot of the rest of them prefer. After looking at it, it probably is the best option.

"I just hope everything works out for all the kids and the communities who want the games. Speaking as an administrator, football sets the tone for the whole school year. Some people may not want to hear that, but football sets the precedent for how the school year goes when it comes to academics and discipline, too."

The biggest concern with the favored option would be the resulting scramble to fill the remainder of the regular season once the TSSAA designates region games.

"You're going to have a lot of coaches frantically calling teams that were on their original schedule trying to get those games reset on new dates," Meigs County coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "We've all got to find enough home games to make sure we can make enough money for our programs to survive. Setting a whole new schedule in a matter of days isn't going to be easy. Hopefully we'll get some word from the governor's office in the next couple of days that allows us to go back to the original schedule."

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

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