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With the start date for Tennessee's high school football season still up in the air, the uncertainty is creating some very real financial concerns for programs across the state.

The TSSAA approved a proposal last week that allowed a sliding scale for when the season could begin — depending on whether Gov. Bill Lee exempts contact sports such as football and girls' soccer from his state of emergency order. If Gov. Lee grants the exemption by Friday, football season would still kick off as scheduled on Aug. 21. However, for each week that passes without an exemption, a week of regular-season games would either be eliminated completely or moved back to the end of the schedule, depending on whether they are region contests.

With four weeks still remaining in Gov. Lee's state of emergency order, that could mean as many as four weeks of regular-season games that get deleted from schedules — only region games set for the first four weeks are guaranteed to be made up at the end of the season, while nonregion games will be eliminated under the TSSAA plan.

With the clocking ticking down on Friday's deadline, area coaches know that the loss of nonregion home games — which can bring in around $10,000 each — could cripple their programs financially.

No local team would be more affected by the loss of games during the first four weeks than Red Bank, which could potentially lose home gates against nontegion rivals Soddy-Daisy (Aug. 21), Ooltewah (Aug. 28) and East Hamilton (Sept. 11). The Lions' contest in week three would be a region game at Signal Mountain, which would be made up.

"I carefully planned our schedule to help us financially as well as playing the type of competition that will get us ready for the playoffs, and now all of that is at risk," said Red Bank coach Chris Brown. "All I've ever asked throughout this process is clarity and direction, but even with what we were given by the TSSAA last week, it still didn't give teams any concrete plans for when we can begin to even practice in pads, much less play games.

"There's an urgency that needs to be realized in order to prepare for our season. I continue to hope to be given that guidance and I'll be one of those people hoping to hear something from the governor this week."

Prep football rivalries in jeopardy

(If the start of the season is delayed)

Aug. 21: Soddy-Daisy at Red Bank, Tyner at Boyd Buchanan, Signal Mountain at East Hamilton

Aug. 28: Ooltewah at Red Bank, Walker Valley at Bradley Central, East Hamilton at Soddy-Daisy, Sequatchie County at Marion County

Sept. 11: Marion County at South Pittsburg, Soddy-Daisy at Cleveland, Howard at Tyner, East Hamilton at Red Bank

 

Brown added that the money brought in from home games is used to operate the program throughout this season and into the next. The potential loss of $30,000 or more would be a devastating blow that would take years to overcome.

"Most high school programs are funded year to year," Brown said. "When you factor in upkeep for equipment, travel, uniforms, meals and everything else that goes into keeping a program going, to lose any of those games, much less all three — which could happen — would be catastrophic.

"We can only control what we can control and that's being ready to take the field when they allow us to. We take a great deal of pride in being extremely competitive in our own city and the schedule we set up was to let our kids prove themselves against the best teams around us and for them and our community to create some lasting memories."

This week would have been the first week teams could begin contact practices in full pads, but under the governor's ordinance, players are only allowed to continue conditioning and lifting weights.

When the TSSAA announced its plan last week, it also included recommendations for limiting crowd sizes in stadiums, which will also cut back on money made by hosting games.

If the start of the season is pushed back to mid-September, it would also mean one round of the playoffs would be eliminated and the playoff bracket for each of the six public school classifications would be cut in half as only the region champion and runner-up would advance to the postseason.

That scenario would also cost the 96 teams statewide that would not reach the playoffs any possible postseason gate receipts.

Two of the state's best traditional rivalries — Marion County at South Pittsburg and Alcoa at Maryville (both scheduled for Sept. 11) — are also in jeopardy. The Marion-South Pittsburg series is the second-oldest rivalry in the state, having been played since 1924, and the last time those neighboring schools did not meet was in 1954. The Pirates and Warriors do not have the same open date this season, which means if they are unable to face off as scheduled, the game will likely be lost.

"It would be a financial disaster for us to lose that game," Pirates coach Vic Grider said. "What would really be a gut punch is we could lose that game, which brings in around $20,000 or more by itself, plus our home opener and the money we all split from the jamboree. You're talking about a combined $35,000-$40,000 lost. Most high school programs can't absorb that kind of loss financially, so I can see where this whole thing could really destroy a lot of programs.

"When you start talking about losing multiple weeks of games, remember that each one of those is a source of income that's needed just to operate the program. It's a scary proposition, and I can guarantee there's a lot of people holding their breath that the governor makes an announcement to let us play this week.

"It's not a stretch to say this could shut down some programs around the state if we're not allowed to have a full season. There's a lot of people who are really nervous right now because every week that passes is a week that's destroying high school football across the state."

Other nonregion money makers that could be lost during the first four weeks include Tyner at Boyd Buchanan and Signal Mountain at East Hamilton on Aug. 21, Walker Valley at Bradley Central and East Hamilton at Soddy-Daisy on Aug. 28, as well as Soddy-Daisy at Cleveland and Howard at Tyner on Sept. 11. Marion County could also lose its first two games, home dates against Fayetteville (Aug. 21) and Sequatchie County the following week.

Most teams play a region opponent in the season's third week (Sept. 4), so those games would be made up at the end of the regular season.

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

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