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‘Right now, anything is possible’ in Tennessee high school football

Douglas Fritz • Apr 28, 2020 at 12:54 AM

Nobody has concrete answers in the ever-changing world of the coronavirus pandemic, but planning and strategizing is already taking place for the 2020 football season in Tennessee.

Thinking outside the box is becoming the norm instead of the exception. And when the fall rolls around, it may take creative minds to get athletes back on the playing fields.

Bernard Childress, executive director of the TSSAA, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press this past weekend he “can’t see a scenario where (the TSSAA) could survive losing football, plain and simple. In order to make our budget, the state has to depend on the revenue from football.”

The TSSAA suffered $1.1 million in lost revenue when the state basketball tournaments weren’t finished and the Spring Fling didn’t take place. In light of that financial drain, saving football season is paramount.

Area schools didn’t see the same financial impact because spring sports don’t produce revenue. But the loss of football revenue would be a giant blow to other sports and some extracurricular activities.

DELAYED SEASON?

With seemingly all options on the table, Childress opened the door for moving the start of football season back by several weeks and extending the playoffs into January.

That would create a shortened winter sports season in order to allow full spring sports in 2021 because that competition was wiped out this year.

But there’s another angle that needs to be considered: playing when you can play.

With concerns of a possible second wave of the coronavirus hitting the country in October or November — combined with the normal flu season — should schools consider playing as many football games as possible in August and September?

“Right now, anything is possible,” said Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner. “We do have to think outside of the box. The logic makes sense to me. If flu season hits in October, why not start sooner and try to avoid it?

“And if you play later, then the weather is colder and people wouldn’t come to the games anyway. And you’re hit financially there, too.”

Extreme caution would need to be taken for heat concerns — perhaps a later kickoff time for the first couple of weeks — but starting the season Aug. 7 would allow nine games to be played by Oct. 2. In nine weeks, teams could play up to six region games — covering the size of the largest regions in our area — and have a three-week postseason involving only the eight region champions.

“The playoffs would be a Board of Control issue,” Turner said. “I think too many teams get in the playoffs already. It wouldn’t hurt to shorten it.”

Another part of that idea is allowing up to two bowl games for all teams that miss the playoffs, a scenario that would allow nonconference rivalries to be played. For example, if Science Hill and Elizabethton both missed the playoffs, they could play a bowl game that could create a significant amount of revenue.

FANS IN THE STANDS

Turner said he’s in favor of having football season even if health guidelines prevent full stadiums.

“Having some fans is better than not having it at all,” Turner said.

Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton Stadium holds about 8,000 fans. So even if sales were limited to 25% capacity, it would create 2,000 tickets’ worth of revenue.

Another possible source of income would require a great deal of cooperation among communities, businesses and others. Making use of Field Turf at places like Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett, Tennessee High and Elizabethton, multiple games could be played each week at these stadiums on Thursday nights, Friday nights and or perhaps even doubleheaders on Saturdays.

For example on a given week at Science Hill: Cloudland vs. Unaka (Thursday), Science Hill vs. Knox Bearden (Friday), Johnson County vs. Chuckey-Doak (Saturday early) and Daniel Boone vs. Volunteer (Saturday late).

If Saturday isn’t workable because of conflicts with college games, Thursdays and Fridays could be turned into doubleheaders with start times at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Other areas, like Knoxville, might be willing to consider a similar setup for home region games when they play teams from our area.

Playing these games at bigger stadiums would allow for easier social distancing. It would also potentially open the door for televised broadcasts — including select games for the smaller programs — as an additional source of revenue for schools.

The logistics and costs involved with multiple televised games in a given week might not be viable — it might take some generous advertising funds from local businesses — but it’s a stone that needs to be turned.

“You would have to sell advertisements to offset the cost,” Turner said. “You also have streaming, which is not very expensive. But I don’t think it compares to live TV.”

Perhaps the Thursday games could be live-streamed on a pay-per-view basis, while the Friday games are televised.

WCYB-TV has produced live broadcasts of area high school football games the past couple of seasons and has plans in place to do the same in 2020.

FURTHER OUTSIDE THE BOX

Turner said his open-minded approach wouldn’t rule out flipping the traditional seasons.

“I even thought about having baseball in the fall and football in the spring,” Turner said. “Hopefully all of this will pass, but we have to have backup plans. We’re still hopeful we will be able to do something. We’re not going to give up on that, but obviously we have to follow health guidelines and directions from the governor.

“Right now we are planning on having sports in the fall and starting training as soon as we can.”

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