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Should TSSAA delay start of football season?

Douglas Fritz • Jun 12, 2020 at 10:00 AM

When preparing for high school football season in years past, everybody was in the same boat.

But in the year of the pandemic, some folks appear to be in motorboats while others are beating around in a canoe. And some are still standing on the shore.

Out of the gates and ahead of the pack, football looks one way in Maryville and Alcoa. It’s a different scene in the Tri-Cities area, but at least players are on the field. Another view is in Nashville and nearby Montgomery County, where schools will wait until July 6 to get back at it. And then there’s Memphis, with no timetable set for a return to action.

It looks like a state full of preparation potholes, but one area coach said there’s a solution that could provide a statewide resurfacing: The TSSAA could push back the start of the 2020 season.

“I think it should be consistent across the board for everybody, and right now it’s not,” said Science Hill coach Stacy Carter. “Some teams are getting to do more than others. We are conditioning and working out, but at some places like Maryville they are in helmets and running plays.”

Carter said Maryville isn’t doing anything against TSSAA rules. Each area of the state can set its own pace for returning to a traditional preseason plan.

“You can do things like running plays and 7-on-7 competition under TSSAA rules right now,” Carter explained. “But we can’t do it because of our regional rules.”

Matthew Gillespie, assistant executive director of the TSSAA, said the organization has not, to this point, had any official discussion about altering the start date for the season, which is slated for Aug. 21.

Carter said a proactive move by the TSSAA would help across the state.

“I would do it right now,” he said. “I would say, ‘Here’s two weeks.’ Now it’s fair, and everybody can catch up.”

Sullivan South coach Justin Hilton said he is fine with the season starting as scheduled, with a caveat.

“If we can start with padded practice at the originally scheduled time of July 27, I am fine with starting on Aug. 21,” Hilton said. “If the ability to practice in pads is pushed back, I think they would need to look at a later start.”

Hilton said a later starting date, accompanied by a full 10-game regular season, would likely require an adjustment to shorten the playoffs.

“It would require fewer teams in the playoffs to complete the season in a timely manner,” Hilton said.

Of course, pushing the start of the season back by two weeks could mean the loss of regular-season games. First to go would be nonconference games, which might force coaches to get creative with their schedules.

For example, Science Hill might schedule two games against Elizabethton because it’s a big money game for both schools. Two contests with partially full stadiums might equal the one big payday from a single full-stadium matchup.

“From one standpoint, I think that would be a good idea,” Carter said. “We tried to get Dobyns-Bennett to do that a few years ago.”

South might play Daniel Boone or Gate City twice.

“Gate City is a great money game, but who knows what will happen since Virginia has been slower to open than almost any other state,” Hilton said. “The most important thing would be to work around and get those conference games in.”

For now, area teams are limited. If there were no restrictions on practicing, Carter said his team would be alternating between installation of offense, 7-on-7 drills, conditioning and weight training. The offensive line would be hitting the sled without pads, and the team would be running plays. And the freshmen would be learning the system.

Those things aren’t happening locally, and the teams had already entered this phase a few steps behind.

“We already lost spring practice,” Carter explained. “The spring really helped you get a head start. Then in the summer you were rehearsing what you learned in the spring.”

Teams that will be hit the hardest this year are those who have to replace offensive linemen.

“Last year we didn’t have any offensive linemen coming back,” Carter said. “The situation this year would have been a disaster for us last year.”

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