Connection: TSSAA Passes Contingency Plan, No Start Date Set

By Russell Vannozzi for The Robertson County Connection and Zach Womble for The Gallatin News

Contingency plans have been approved if high school contact sports cannot start on time in Tennessee. 

Full practices for fall sports like football and girls soccer are currently on hold until the state emergency order limiting contact expires Aug. 29 or until Gov. Bill Lee decides otherwise. 

In response, the TSSAA Board of Control voted on backup plans for both sports. The Board approved a hybrid scheduling model for football and agreed to move the girls soccer regular season and state championships back two weeks if the season doesn’t begin as scheduled the week of Aug. 17.

“Our goal is to have an ordinary season as much as possible,” TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said. “The contingency plans we are talking about today are out there just in case we cannot have a full season. We have to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

“Given the circumstances, high school sports will clearly look different this year. We just have to be flexible and understand that in this unique situation, we’re all going through the same thing and trying to make the best decisions for young people.”

The football hybrid model is a spin-off of option No. 2 that the TSSAA presented to the Board of Control on July 1.

Under option No. 2, an eight-game regular season would have begun on Sept. 18 and featured a 16-team playoff (top two teams in each region advance) with one less week of postseason play. Teams that did not make the playoffs could have scheduled two additional games. This option was favored by 48 percent of coaches across the state, according to a survey conducted by the Tennessee Football Coaches Association. 

But it did not account for as much flexibility as the hybrid model, a week-by-week plan that isn’t married to any particular start date and allows region games to be adjusted based on when student-athletes are permitted to begin contact practices. 

“We are maximizing our ability to play as much of the original schedule if we don’t start on Sept. 18,” Childress said. “(The hybrid) allows coaches to keep their schedules intact as much as possible.” 

Football teams must complete heat acclimatization and hold three weeks of contact practices before playing any games. If acclimatization is complete and contact practices begin by Aug. 3, the season will begin on time with Week 1 on Aug. 21. 

If acclimatization is not complete and contact practices do not begin by Aug. 3, the hybrid model would kick in and Week 1 region games would be pushed back to an alternative date determined by the TSSAA. Teams that share an open date could play that week, but if not, the game would be rescheduled to a date when both teams are slated to play a non-region game. 

The same process would apply for Weeks 2-4 if contact practices don’t start at least three weeks ahead of each scheduled game.

If acclimatization is not completed and contact practices cannot start by Aug. 31, competition in Week 5 would be impacted and the TSSAA would be forced to consider other contingency plans.

The Board decided that regular season games in any sport canceled by COVID-19 outbreaks will be considered a “no-contest” with neither team receiving a win or loss. If a team has an outbreak during the postseason and cannot play, that team would be eliminated and the tournament would proceed.

The Board also voted to allow students who choose virtual schooling options to participate in sports and approved several regulations for the 2020-21 academic year. These apply to all sports until further notice: 

  1. Coaches, players and team personnel are required to have their temperature checked prior to the start of every practice. If their temperature is greater than 100.4, that person or persons would be required to go home and will not be allowed to return until documentation from a doctor shows a negative COVID-19 test. 
  2. No player or coach can participate without prior COVID-19 screening. The screening includes a questionnaire about any symptoms or contact with COVID-19 cases.
  3. At each contest, COVID-19 symptom checklists must be posted prominently. The TSSAA will provide the list.
  4. Schools will be encouraged to limit fan attendance to a number that will adequately allow for social distancing (¼ to ⅓ of typical capacity).
  5. Scrimmages, jamborees, 7-on-7s and any practices with other schools are not permitted. 
  6. At all contests: coaches, players, team personnel, officials, administrators and fans are required to have their temperature checked before entering the facility.
  7. Those who attend games will be required to wear face coverings and will be encouraged to socially distance themselves. 
  8. Host schools are responsible for sanitizing facilities. Frequent cleaning is encouraged.
  9. Concession stands will be discouraged. If a school chooses to have one, they are asked to limit the number of workers and crowd/line size outside of the stand. 
  10. Coaches must complete the NFHS online course, “COVID-19 for Coaches and Administrators.”
  11. Public address announcers must make frequent reminders encouraging fans to remain socially distant and to wear their facial coverings.

Cross country, golf and volleyball are not considered high-risk and can still start on time provided that teams follow the regulations. Golf matches start as soon as July 28, while cross country meets and volleyball games begin in mid-August. 

Football and girls soccer teams can continue conditioning and individual drills that do not involve contact. However, the ultimate fate of their seasons will be decided by the governor. 

“As frustrating as these things can be, it is out of our control,” Pope John Paul II football coach Justin Geisinger said. “(We) hope for clearance – as long as it is the safe and right thing to do – as soon as possible. Kids need football and school, but at same time, we have to sit back and wait for (Gov. Lee) to make a decision.”

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