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Clear as mud… Even after TSSAA meeting, area coaches still in limbo regarding season

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
The TSSAA Board of Directors met Wednesday to discuss possibilities for the upcoming football high school season in Tennessee and it was evident that even though they walked away with four options the future of football is as cloudy as a bowl of muddy water with the current surge in COVID-19 numbers.
In a nutshell, here were the four options given to be mulled over should Governor Bill Lee’s State of Emergency be lifted August 29, 2020. The board is scheduled to meet on July 8th to make a final decision.

1. Seven game season w/full 5 weeks of playoffs

2. Eight game season w/4 week playoffs (drop 1st round of playoffs)

3. Nine game season w/3 week playoffs (region champs only)

4. Cancel playoffs and championships and play regular-season games.
In options one and two, the TSSAA state office would replace the scheduled games to be played which could hinder many schools at the gate.
Two local coaches were reached out to for their take on what came out of the meeting.
“We need to play as many regular-season games as possible,” said Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten. “If we cannot play our Science Hill game, there won’t be any revenue for anybody to do anything.
“If you don’t get to play the full season, they (TSSAA) will decide who you will play. If they shorten the regular season where the schools get to make the gate money and keep 50 percent of their playoff games, it helps them (TSSAA) put more money in their pocket as they get 50 percent of the playoff gates during that time.”
Football is considered the ‘Cash Cow’ for schools when it comes to budgets for other sports and activities like the school band. If the schedule is replaced by the TSSAA without consultation from the schools’ athletic directors, games that tend to put a great deal of money into the school coffers could be replaced with lesser opponents that would knock that down considerably.
Even though the Science Hill game is a big-money game for Elizabethton, another game that always does well is the Daniel Boone game. If the TSSAA decided to move the Boone game away from Elizabethton to another school, for example, a Greeneville that hurts the Cyclones bottom line.
And all this doesn’t even take into account how many paying fans will be allowed through the gates due to social distancing guidelines which slash even further into the gate proceeds.
“There are more questions than answers right now,” said Hampton head coach Michael Lunsford. “Football is such an important part of the financial aspects of local schools.
“It carries the financial burden of other the other sports. Everyone just needs to do their part to help keep the numbers down. We hope to play in September.”
Some have called for football to be moved to the spring and allow the sports considered to be ‘non-contact’ in nature to go ahead and play in the fall such as baseball, softball, volleyball, and track.
“The toughest part for switching to the spring would be how would it work out and be rescheduled in 2021,” Witten said when asked about such a plan. “Another thing is how does that match up with college especially with the kids playing football in making a decision where they are going to play.
“It’s tough to make short-term decisions.”
Another part that could very well throw a monkey wrench into the whole plan is that it’s not written in stone that Lee will keep that date firm and may once again extend the State Emergency another 30 to 60 days based on data closer to that time frame.
That would create a log jam with other sports seasons if the decision is made to get the football season completed.
“The hardest thing is how do you calculate the schedule,” Witten stated. “When sports start to overlap, it makes kids chose which sport to play.
“If a team has a deep playoff run and causes football to run too far, how does a kid or his parents choose?  That’s especially true for a freshman who has four years to play – where do they get that information from.”
Both coaches were asked if a quick jump into contact without say a 30-day window to prepare would be problematic once contact was allowed.
“I think that we would be okay,” said Lunsford. “Your contact practices normally don’t start until August 1st and then you get into games soon after that.
“If we are able to have a scrimmage, it would go a long way to get prepared. I really don’t want to roll out in Week 1 without having some contact.”
Witten added, “If you teach your players the right way to play when the time comes to put on the pads you already know what to do. It’s a coin toss on how much contact you can have.
“I even think you could eliminate most of preseason and 7-on-7 because what if one of the players, for example, Parker Hughes gets hurt in a scrimmage and is out for his entire senior season. How does that help the team?”
Both coaches were in agreement that they felt the TSSAA should have been taking a deeper look into the scenarios in preparation for the new season with the current state of the unknown with the pandemic.
“I believe that the TSSAA has not been out front and has allowed the governor to set the guidelines,” Witten stated. “There has been no outline or timetable presented and now they are in a bind scratching their heads to make the best decision possible.”
Lunsford said, “I think they have their hands tied by the state and I don’t think anybody could have been fully prepared. I am sure they have had many private conversations about this. Everybody is now in a wait and see.”
All eyes, particularly high school football coaches, athletic directors, school administrators, players, and communities now have their calendars marked for July 8th to see what comes of the football debacle.
Even then, the real answer will more than likely not even be known.

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