The annual "dead period" in Tennessee and Georgia has been anything but as the expected return of high school sports is in doubt after the two states' governors extended the public health state of emergency this week due to recent dramatic spikes in the number of COVID-19 positive test results.
Gov. Bill Lee extended Tennessee's state of emergency until Aug. 29, and his order specified limitations for contact sports events and activities at the high school level. The TSSAA Board of Control was already scheduled to meet on Wednesday morning and will now discuss proposals for how to move forward with the football and girls' soccer seasons, as well as basketball and wrestling, which are not scheduled to begin until November.
"Based on the extension of the governor's order, football and girls' soccer cannot begin their seasons as originally scheduled," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "We are in the process of developing regular-season and postseason options to present to the TSSAA Board of Control for their consideration.
"The board will ultimately make the decision as to how this will impact the postseason and if any adjustments can be made to regular-season competition."
Northwest Georgia area high school athletic administrations have not received new guidelines from the Georgia High School Association, which is closed during this week's dead period. Area prep football coaches are preparing for at least a delayed start to the 2020 season after Gov. Brian Kemp extended Georgia's state of emergency to Aug. 11.
Also included in the order was an extension of the ban on gatherings of 50 or more people (unless there is a 6-foot barrier between each person) until July 15. In addition the order also states that Georgia's State Board of Education must provide "rules, regulations, and guidance for the operation of public elementary and secondary schools for local boards of education."
Those new guidelines could delay the start of the school year. Currently, preseason work in Tennessee and Georgia is scheduled to open for conditioning July 27, with the season's first games scheduled for Aug. 21.
"I trust that the GHSA will consider the state's extended policy as they hand out new stipulations for the week of July 6," Dalton football coach Matt Land said. "I do not see anything within the governor's action which changes the position that we are currently in. However, as I have mentioned before, we are building the airplane as we fly it. We will adjust to whatever the state hands down and will move forward from there."
Some Southern states, most notably Mississippi, are reportedly considering swapping fall and spring sports dates to decrease the chances of close physical contact. The possible move of football to the first of the new year is gaining some momentum in Georgia.
"I really feel football season will be delayed now if not changed to spring," Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe coach Bo Campbell said. "Let's look at the bright side. If high school football does get changed to the spring, it gives us more time to get prepared, we will not have as many heat problems, college recruiters/coaches can come to more games, and fans could watch college football and NFL games in fall and go watch high school games in the spring.
"This is what football fans have always wanted: football to watch year-round instead of reruns. This would also help financially as football usually helps support the other athletic programs. Hopefully, by spring, more fans would be able come to games which would help all sports and governing organizations such as GHSA and TSSAA financially as well."
Public school athletic departments rely on revenue generated during football season to help fund other sports, many that annually lose money. Many believe that even if football is played this fall, programs will lose thousands of dollars due to limited, or no, gate receipts.
As one area coach who requested anonymity said, "A school year without football would be devastating. Playing without fans could bankrupt some systems because you still have to pay for equipment, pay road expenses and officials. Neither is a good choice."