Tennessee high school football coaches, players, fans and media members were really looking forward to this morning’s TSSAA Board of Control meeting.
The thought was that one of four plans for playing the 2020 football season was going to be adopted and everybody could move forward with preparations.
That did not happen.
After frustrating many of those listening to the live feed by starting 20 minutes late, the board decided to put off the decision until later. Just when is later? Nobody knows.
“Nobody saw it coming,” said Covington head coach J.R. Kirby. “Why do you put a plan out for a week, we do all these surveys and you’re not going to give us some sort of hope? In my opinion it was a waste of our time for a week. It was a waste of everyone’s time.”
On June 30 Gov. Bill Lee extended Tennessee’s COVID-19 State of Emergency order to Aug. 29.
According to a press release from the TSSAA, that means “member schools cannot have close contact activities during their fundamental practice in the sports of football, 7-on-7 football, girls’ soccer, wrestling and basketball.”
The high school football season was scheduled to begin Aug. 21 and full contact practice was to start in late July.
Comments made by TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress seem to indicate he believes the order prohibiting contact sports could be lifted before the season is scheduled to start.
“We are working with the governor’s legal counsel and based on the conversation we are having, we think it is best to delay any vote on a contingency plan,” Childress said. “The governor’s legal counsel stated that they need time to observe the data and work with us. There will come a time when we will have to make a decision on a contingency plan, but right now it is our opinion that we need to give their legal team the opportunity to see if it is needed … Their legal counselors are well aware of the TSSAA sports calendar and we will work to get an answer as soon as we can.”
There was no shortage of outrage on social media.
John Starr, the head coach at Howard School, was quoted as saying, “Does the TSSAA even care about high school football? I’m so dang frustrated right now I can’t even see straight. I want an answer and I want it now! They’re sitting back and nobody has a plan. I’ve never seen anything like this! Somebody needs to step up!”
Stephen Hargis, sports editor at the Times Free Press in Chattanooga tweeted the following: “Anybody who wondered why the TSSAA gets blasted on a regular basis – today’s ‘meeting’ is a prime example. A total dumpster fire that has only served to confuse and piss off most every coach of a member school.”
Munford head coach Slade Calhoun was one of many frustrated coaches.
“Everybody was on pins and needles,” Calhoun said. “They don’t understand how many hours coaches have been on the phone talking about different scenarios. I’ve got kids wanting to know if they’re going to have a season or not and they give us nothing … Why don’t you go ahead and have a vote and wait and see what the governor says. That way we’d have some sort of plan going forward. If the governor lifts it then we could go back to normal.”
“People I’m texting right now are pretty pissed off,” Kirby said. “What do I tell the kids tomorrow? I tell them we’re getting ready for a season and we are, but why do you put out the plans and then do this. We’re disappointed about not getting some guidance, but we haven’t really gotten any guidance this whole time so it doesn’t surprise me.”
The following four contingency plans were/are being considered by the TSSAA:
• If the executive order expires on Aug. 29, practice would begin on Aug. 30 with the first game on Sept. 18. All regular season schedules for schools would be replaced by the state office with a seven-week region schedule for all schools. Playoffs would be conducted as usual, but schools that do not make the playoffs would be able to play two extra games after the regular season.
• If the executive order expires on Aug. 29, practice could begin on Aug. 30 with the first game on Sept. 18. All regular season schedules for schools would be replaced by the state office with an eight-week region schedule. The regular season would extend into Week 12 and the first-round of the playoffs would be eliminated (only region champions and runners-up would qualify). Teams that do not qualify for the playoffs would be able to play two extra games after the regular season.
• If the executive order expires on Aug. 29, practice would begin on Aug. 30 with the first game on Sept. 18. Schools would keep their current schedule and begin play with the Week 5 game on Sept. 18. Games scheduled against member schools for Week 3 would be played in Week 12. Games scheduled against member schools for Week 4 would be played in Week 13. Only region champions would advance to the playoffs beginning in Week 14. Schools that do not qualify for the playoffs would be able to play one extra game.
• Cancel playoffs and championships. Start practice on Aug. 30. Schools play games as scheduled beginning with Week 5 games on Sept. 18. Move games against member schools from Weeks 1-4 to Weeks 12-15.