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TSSAA needs to put student-athletes first

Douglas Fritz • Jul 8, 2020 at 1:00 PM

Which of the four TSSAA options for high school football is best?

Actually it’s Option 5.

But before we open the window on that plan — which won’t be considered during Wednesday’s TSSAA Board of Control meeting — could we take a hard-and-fast moment to close another?

One of the avenues the TSSAA is pursuing to play football this fall is convincing Gov. Bill Lee to reverse his previous decision and give high schools an exemption from the no-contact order, listed under the extended state of emergency through Aug. 29.

On the Board of Control agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, it states, “the governor and his team have been very receptive to working with us in order to develop the best path forward for middle and high school sports, especially contact sports.”

But putting high school kids in the same category as highly compensated professional athletes seems like a dark and unnecessary path to traverse. The best interests of the student-athletes should be first and foremost in the minds of the TSSAA, coaches and school administrators.

Right now, in the world as we know it, wearing masks has been promoted across political barriers. In a matter of just three weeks, is the world going to move from wearing masks in all social settings to mask-less face-to-face sweat and breath? Football was scheduled to begin full practice on July 27 before Lee’s order was announced.

So even if there is tiny shred of possibility that COVID mysteriously goes away and all is well, let’s remember the teenagers are counting on the adults to make decisions that won’t put their health in jeopardy. And let’s get past the idea that football needs to rush to an Aug. 21 start.

The TSSAA, the organization that governs high school athletics in Tennessee, presented four football options during last week’s Board of Control meeting.

Option 1 was a seven-game schedule with full playoffs. Option 2 provides an eight-game regular season with only region champions and runners-up qualifying for the playoffs. Option 3 has nine games with a region champions-only postseason. And Option 4 offers a 10-game schedule with no playoffs.

But the TSSAA needs Option 5. In a shape-shifting pandemic, the goal should be to cover as many scenarios as possible. One scenario left uncovered was the one where football simply cannot be played this fall.

Look at almost any news source today, and it’s getting easier to imagine college football — and maybe even the NFL — never getting out of the starter’s gate. Yes, that’s a pessimistic view at this time. But to act like it doesn’t exist, given the world’s current situation, seems naive.

So if NFL and college teams have at least some percentage of a chance of not playing, how much more realistic is the set of circumstances where high school football won’t happen in the fall?

Enter Option 5.

It could be a tag-along to whichever of the aforementioned options is chosen Wednesday. It could read something like this:

“Baseball, softball, tennis and track teams should begin logistical preparations for a fall schedule. If on Aug. 17 it is determined a fall football season cannot take place, practice begins for those four sports. The regular season would start Aug. 31. The postseason would begin and end in October.”

If the TSSAA waits until Aug. 29 to decide if Lee is going to extend the state of emergency, it will be too late to make a spring-to-fall move for baseball and others.

A mid-September start for sports like baseball and softball would mean one of two things: a shortened regular season or a potentially very cold finish to the postseason.

Baseball pitchers are throwing under game conditions during July. Having them ready for late August is not a stretch. Softball teams are playing and scrimmaging and could be ready to go.

But teams will need time to prepare. And after losing out in the spring, baseball and softball teams need a legitimate length of season this time around.

“It’s not the perfect situation, and some kids would have to make a tough decision between sports, but as long as we get to play a season I will do whatever I have to do,” said Elizabethton softball coach Ken Hardin.

Contact Douglas Fritz via email at dfritz@johnsoncitypress.com.

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