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TSSAA announces plan for high school football season
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Jonathan Duenas, left, works to shed a block from Christian Tigue who is using a sanitized blocking pad at WCHS practice Wednesday afternoon.
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Pioneer backs, from left, Kason Holder, Hunter Birch and Eli Cantrell work on their cuts and ball control skills Wednesday in practice while coaches, from left, Alan Perkins, Kenny Shultz and Matt Turner watch their technique.

Who needs a circus? There could be plenty of juggling when it comes to this year’s high school football schedule.

The TSSAA Board of Control met Wednesday in Murfreesboro and outlined plans for starting football season.

It all revolves around when, or if, Gov. Bill Lee decides to lift his executive order that prohibits contact sports. As it stands, the governor’s order is not set to expire until Aug. 29. 

Under a best-case scenario for football, the governor would lift his ban on or before Aug. 3. That would allow the season to begin as planned on Aug. 21 with the Pioneers traveling to Smithville to play DeKalb County.

The juggling begins if the governor decides to lift the ban at a later date. If he were to lift it Aug. 10, for example, Week 1 would be skipped and the season would start Week 2. 

If the ban is lifted Aug. 17, Week 1 and 2 would be skipped and the season would start Week 3.

“The good news is it looks like we’re going to get to play football,” said Warren County High School football coach Matt Turner. “If the ban is lifted by Aug. 3, everything remains intact. We kick off the season as normal and 32 teams make the playoffs.”

Asked how it’s been trying to keep his players 6 feet apart during conditioning drills and away from contact, Turner shook his head and smiled.

“With this group, it’s been like trying to hold back a herd of horses. They’re ready to go.”

In its Wednesday meeting, the TSSAA determined only region games are mandatory. That’s good news for Warren County which is scheduled to start its season in DeKalb County before facing Cannon County at home in McMinnville. Both those schools are non-region opponents.

Some teams open the season against region opponents, which means changes would have to be made further down the schedule to accommodate that region game if the ban is not lifted by Aug. 3. The change could be easy if both teams have the same bye week. Or it could be more difficult if they have to cancel a game against a non-region opponent, potentially leaving that opponent without a game to play that week.

The TSSAA also tackled how to handle a COVID-19 breakout as it pertains to competition in both the regular season and postseason. A regular-season game becomes a win for seeding purposes if the opposing team can’t play due to COVID-19. The team struck with illness would receive neither a win nor a loss.

If both teams confront outbreaks of the virus, it is considered a no-contest.

It was also voted to allow students whose school systems are beginning with remote instruction to still be allowed as full participants in all sports.

New rules will also be in place for fans attending games. Temperatures will be taken at the gate, facemasks will be required, and concessions are discouraged. Stadiums should also operate at lower capacity, the TSSAA ruled, to allow for social distancing.

“It’s going to be like graduation,” said Turner.

While some sports fans are hopeful Gov. Lee will lift his executive order before Aug. 29, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress wants to dispel any notion his organization is putting pressure on the governor to do so.

“We are working hand-in-hand with the Governor’s Office,” Childress said Wednesday. “Everything presented today has been vetted by the Governor’s Office, agreed upon by their legal counsel and by our legal counsel.”

Childress continued, “This is not TSSAA vs. the Governor’s Office. Everything has been a joint effort and we are not in conflict. Our goal is to have an ordinary season as much as possible.”

Not knowing if, or when, the governor’s order may be lifted, the TSSAA has potential start dates in place and plans for the season to begin as early as Aug. 21 or as late as Sept. 18.