Plans remain to hold high school athletic events this fall, but how COVID-19 will impact them is leaving administrators in a plan-for-the-worst, hope-for-the-best mode.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Board of Control held a meeting Wednesday at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro to discuss regulations related to COVID-19 and contingency plans for football and girls soccer.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress led off the meeting by reiterating that the organization is still working with the governor’s office to get everything sorted for the fall sports season.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed three executive orders on June 29 which extended coronavirus restrictions in the state through Aug. 29. The restrictions laid out in the executive orders include limits on the operations of football and girls soccer programs across the state.
Childress said that he and the rest of the TSSAA is hopeful that the football and girls soccer season can be given approval to continue as scheduled, but the contingency plans discussed at the meeting would still be needed if that is not possible.
“Regardless of what we do today, those conversations are going to continue,” Childress said. “We have to hope for the best and plan for the worst. We have to be flexible.”
The Board of Control started by going over COVID-19 regulations for the 2020-21 school year. The regulations, which were approved unanimously by the board, will apply to all sports until further notice.
The rules discussed included:
- Temperature checks are required prior to every practice for all coaches, players and other team personnel. Anyone with a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees must be sent home and cannon resume practicing until they prove documentation of a negative COVID-19 test or obtain a medical evaluation from a physician verifying that the coronavirus was not the cause of the fever.
- All coaches, players and team personnel must go through a COVID-19 screening before participating in their first practice. Questions asked through the screening would include if any symptoms have been experienced in the prior seven days and whether the person going through the screening has a family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has been in contact with a COVID-19 patient in the prior 14 days.
- No scrimmages, jamborees or other types of practices with other teams will be permitted.
- At official contests, all coaches, players, team personnel, officials, administrators and fans must have their temperature checks. Those registering a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees must not be allowed to enter.
- At each contest, a listing of symptoms for COVID-19 should be posted prominently at any area where spectators can enter.
- At contests in areas where fans are allowed to attend, schools are encouraged to limit fan attendance to encourage social distancing. Schools are also encouraged to mark or designate bleachers or seats to further promote social distancing.
- Member schools will require that all fans wear face coverings at all times while on-site and maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet. The requirement for face coverings does not apply to children under the age of 2.
- All requirements related to temperature checks and screenings will also apply to members of a school band, cheerleaders or other similar student groups in attendance. Due to the potential risk of virus transmission during certain activities, the use of bands is discouraged. If the band is present, it should be relocated to an available area away from crowds and the physical distance between band members should be increased.
- If a public address system is used, the host school will make public service announcements during the contest to remind those in attendance to use masks and maintain social distancing.
- The host school is responsible for providing staff to engage in frequent cleaning and sanitizing of restroom facilities.
- Concession stands at contests are discouraged due to a tendency for them to create large gatherings of people in close proximity. If a concession stand is operating at a game, signage or other appropriate markings must be in place to encourage social distancing. All concession stand workers must wear face coverings and maintain social distancing as much as possible.
The next major item discussed was how to handle cancelled games due to COVID-19 outbreaks among one or both of the teams involved. If a player is diagnosed with COVID-19, it would force the rest of the team to quarantine for 14 days.
The Board of Control decided that if a team is unable to play due to a COVID-19 outbreak, then any teams they were they were scheduled to play would get a forfeit victory. However, the team that could not play would not have any wins or losses registered on its schedule.
If both teams involved in a contest are unavailable due to quarantining, then the game would be ruled a no-contest.
If an outbreak were to occur during the postseason for any sport, any teams with coronavirus cases would be automatically eliminated from the bracket.
The Board quickly went through the contingency plan for the girls soccer season and voted to go with a two-week delay if it can’t be started on time.
If the TSSAA gets an exemption for girls soccer before Aug. 10, then the season could start during its initially planned time of Aug. 17 with state championship being held Oct. 28-31.
If practices can’t start until after Aug. 10 due to the current executive order, then the girls soccer season would start on Sept. 17 with the state championships being held Nov. 11-14.
The final item to vote on was the potential contingency plans for the football season with five plans being considered.
The first option would have full practices starting on Aug. 30 with the season starting on Sept. 18. Teams would play a seven-game schedule with the playoffs starting on time with 32 teams.
In that option, the TSSAA would clear the schedules for each team and set regional schedules to account for the more limited time frame. Any teams that didn’t make the playoffs in this proposal could schedule an additional two games for a nine-game season.
The second proposal would have the same starting dates of Aug. 30 for full practices and Sept. 18 for the regular season. The season would run for eight games with the top two teams in each region advancing to the playoffs.
Like the first proposal, teams that are left out of the postseason would be able to schedule an additional two games.
The third proposal kept to the dates of Aug. 30 for full practices and Sept. 18 for the first day of games with each team playing a nine-game season. In this scenario, only the regional champions would advance to the playoffs for an eight-team bracket in each classification.
The fourth proposal offered was also the most drastic with the main feature being the elimination of the postseason altogether. The option, if carried out, would guarantee each team five games and would allow them to go out and schedule up to five more games to round out their seasons.
The fifth and final plan was a new hybrid model which was recently introduced by the TSSAA and based off the 32-team playoff field from the second proposal. Under this model, the TSSAA would keep the current schedules for now and adjust the schedule based on when the season could be started.
The main appeal of the hybrid model would be that teams would get to keep their current schedules and not have to worry about finding extra games at the last moment. The option doesn’t lay out a clear start date for football, but does provide some flexibility if the governor’s office grants an exemption for the TSSAA before Aug. 29.
The Board of Control voted to adopt the hybrid model.
The next major date for the football season will be Aug. 3. If teams are not allowed to begin practicing by then, the first week of regular-season games will be cancelled with any regional contests rescheduled by the TSSAA.
Games for Week 2 of the season would be called off if teams can’t start practicing by Aug. 10. No full-contact practices by Aug. 17 would mean that the playoff field for each class of Division 1 would be brought down to 16 teams and all Week 3 games would be rescheduled for Week 12.
The final barrier before the expiration of the current executive orders would be Aug. 24. If teams are unable to engage in full practices by that date, then all regional games for Week 4 will replace a mutually available date for both teams later in the season.
If the current state of emergency in Tennessee is extended beyond Aug. 29 and football teams are unable to engage in full practices by Aug. 31, the Board of Control will discuss further options for the football season at that time.