Start of high school football in jeopardy of delay

Douglas Fritz • Jun 29, 2020 at 5:45 PM

High school football season could be delayed by at least two weeks because of Gov. Bill Lee’s order to extend Tennessee’s state of emergency to Aug. 29.

Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter pulled no punches on whether he thought football would start on the currently scheduled date of Aug. 21.

“I don’t think there is any chance,” Carter said.

Lee extended Executive Order No. 50, which is in force because of the pandemic and includes this provision: “Contact sporting events and activities are prohibited under this order. Contact sporting events and activities are sports for which there is a requirement of, or substantial likelihood of, routine, sustained close proximity or physical contact between participants.”

In other words: football.

High school football was scheduled to begin Aug. 21. The only hope seems to be a reversal by Lee to end the state of emergency sooner.

TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie said Monday afternoon, “We will be in communication with the governor's office for clarification and discussion.”

Dobyns-Bennett head coach Joey Christian wasn’t any more optimistic than Carter.

“When you look at the framework, there’s no way it will start on time,” Christian said.

Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten said he has turned his attention to a later start date as well.

“It really shocked me,” Witten said. “It will probably be delayed into September. Labor Day weekend wouldn’t be too bad. I’m still optimistic about getting to play in general.”

Carter said the news was tough to take.

“It’s an upsetting thing, flat out,” he said. “I was an optimist. We were tying to figure out 7 on 7 yesterday. But I had a bad feeling with how the world was going.”

The Aug. 29 date could push the season start date deep into September.

“We would need 30 days,” said Witten. “The kids would have to get into condition to play 48 minutes. You have to take the well being of each athlete into consideration.”

Carter said his team would need a week in shoulder pads and helmets before three weeks of practice.

“We should be able to go about the fourth week,” he said. “I would say about a month is right.”

Coaches and athletic directors around the area have expressed a need for communication from the TSSAA on how to more forward, even before Lee’s decision.

“I wish we had better guidance from our state organization,” Christian said. “The (Virginia High School League) and the Kentucky Association seem to be way ahead of Tennessee on these matters.”

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The TSSAA Board of Control already had a meeting in place for Wednesday to discuss plans for new classification, but Gov. Lee’s order may cause a new item to be added to the agenda.

Prior to seeing Gov. Lee’s decision, Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner said schools need guidance from the TSSAA.

“We need some direction on what we can and can’t do this fall,” said Turner.

With the dead period ending July 5, fall sports teams would normally hit the ground running.

“It would be full force,” said Turner.

“But we have a lot of things to do in regard to planning. And it’s not just sports. It’s extracurricular things like band and fundraising. We have to know which route we can take.”

Turner said he would like to see schools get the green light to move forward Monday.

“We can take the necessary precautions,” he said. “I think the kids need to be back in school, back in the activities, and go from there. There are different opinions on everything, but I think the young people can handle it.”

Turner said he thinks the TSSAA needs to step into the fray with specific guidance, but there is a potential catch.

“What’s good for Nashville might not be good for us,” Turner said. “Are we going to base what we do on the bigger cities? I don’t want to see that.”

As for classification, it is scheduled to change with the 2021-22 school year. The new system would be in effect through the 2024-25 school year. On the table is discussion about adding a class for basketball, baseball and softball (from three to four) with a potential one-class drop for football (from six to five).

The process to determine the new classification is slated to begin this fall. Enrollment numbers would be collected and teams would be assigned into districts and regions.

TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie said board members will talk about the timeline.

“Nothing will be voted on (Wednesday) in regards to major changes for classification,” Gillespie said. “The discussion will be whether to go forward with classification this year or not. The concern is getting accurate enrollment figures in the fall.”

Tuner said he doesn’t see a problem moving forward with the classification process.

“It doesn’t start until next year anyway,” Turner said. “They could delay it a little bit, but I don’t think it would hurt to go ahead and do it. The main reason they do it this early is so schools can start working on football schedules.”