BY SABRINA BATES
The start date of middle and high school fall sports continues to be a fluid discussion across the state as the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association factors in Executive Orders issued by Governor Bill Lee, along with consultation from Lee’s legal team and physicians across Tennessee.
In an afternoon meeting Wednesday, July 22, 2020, the TSSAA Board of Control opted to bump the fall football season for member schools to an eight-week season, with first games tentatively set September 17-18. Practice can begin three weeks prior for teams.
Under Lee’s Executive Order, scrimmages, jamborees and contact practice for football and girls soccer are prohibited. TSSAA Board members unanimously noted regardless of the start date for football, teams will be allowed three weeks of practice prior to the start of the season and there can’t be much consideration of moving forward until Lee’s Executive Order is lifted.
The hybrid plan, considered option number two by the TSSAA Board, eliminates one week of playoffs and drops the number of Division I playoff teams from 32 to 16. According to discussion, if a team is set to play a regional game and must forfeit due to school closure or a player/coach tests positive for COVID-19, that team forfeits that game.
Another topic of discussion allows member schools with virtual enrollment to still participate as member school in practices and games. It would be left up to the school’s administrative personnel to determine if a student enrolled virtually is allowed to participate in sports activities.
Under the TSSAA recommendations for fall sports teams, temperature checks are required for coaching staff, team members, cheerleaders and band members prior to practices and games. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or greater will be sent home and not allowed to return until cleared by medical documentation or a negative COVID-19 test.
Other recommendations for member schools include temperature checks of fans upon entering sports facilities; limited seating for fans to one-fourth or one-third capacity; marked stadium seating; the use of masks by fans and visitors (except those under age 2); a PA system announcement frequently encouraging fans to social distance and wear masks; extra cleaning conducted by staff; discouraged use of concession stands and every member school coach is required to take the free, online COVID-19 course provided by the TSSAA.
Moving forward, non-contact fall sports such as cross country, volleyball and golf may begin as originally scheduled. TSSAA Board members suggested staggering start times for cross-country meets and limiting the number of participants.
The TSSAA Board approved the recommendations, tentative upon the expiration of Lee’s Executive Order regarding fall contact sports. Board members noted coaches were looking for more certainty, but there was too much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. The Board will meet again August 17, 2020.
Updates, including a detailed description of the hybrid-option number two plan, can be found on www.tssaa.org.