By Brad Sam
© 2020 Tri-County Pub., Inc.
MURFREESBORO (July 22) — The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) Board of Control met Wednesday and approved an outline for the football and girls’ soccer seasons and adopted COVID-19 guidelines and procedures required of all member institutions who wish to compete in all athletics in the 2020-21 calendar school year.
“The regulations and guidelines the Board passed today go into effect immediately for all sports,” said Bernard Childress, Executive Director of the TSSAA. “We’re hopeful that the prohibition on contact sports will be lifted before August 29, but if it’s not, the Board of Control has put some policies in place to help keep our kids and communities safe and lay out a roadmap to the start of our football and girls’ soccer seasons.”
Tennessee high schools and their athletics programs cannot begin practices and/or games in contact sports under Governor Bill Lee’s current State of Emergency Order. Executive Order No. 50 promotes “social distancing and avoidance of large gatherings” and limits activities in contact sports.
“We are working hand-in-hand with the Governor’s Office,” Childress said. “Everything presented today has been vetted by the Governor’s Office, agreed upon by their legal counsel and by our legal counsel.
“The governor’s [executive order] is still in place. We cannot do anything right now other than weightlifting, conditioning, heat acclimation periods with no contact. 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.”
For football’s “Option 2 Hybrid” plan, the state preserves the potential for an ten-game regular season and full playoff format, but also lays the groundwork for what could become an eight-game season with a reduced playoff field for Division I.
On August 4, if the State of Emergency declaration still stands, region games originally scheduled for Week 1 of the prep football season will be moved to later, common dates that TSSAA already has modeled. As each week passes where no contact is allowed, the next week’s region games are rescheduled.
With the Option 2 Hybrid plan, there is a potential start date in place and a plan for the season to begin as early as August 21 or as late as September 18.
“As of this past Monday, football teams were permitted to begin their heat acclimatization, which can be done without contact,” said Richard McWhirter, TSSAA Assistant Executive Director. “Understanding though, that heat acclimatization is ‘per athlete,’ I recommend that schools get students’ acclimatization done as soon as possible. Athletes that have completed acclimatized by the time the contact order is lifted are then ready to begin full contact practice.”
The board also addressed how COVID-19 outbreaks will be handled for both the regular and postseason competition. A regular-season game becomes a win for seeding purposes if the opposing team can’t play due to COVID-19, but 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.”
Additionally, for all sports and not merely the upcoming fall divisions of cross country, golf, volleyball, football and girls’ soccer, the TSSAA and its board voted unanimously to allow students whose school systems are beginning with remote instruction to still be allowed as full participants in all sports.
For girls’ soccer, the TSSAA adopted a plan to begin the season on September 7 granted the governor’s order is lifted after the current August 29 expiration date. The regular season would last eight weeks with championships set for November 11-14. If the order is lifted prior to August 10, the season and championships will proceed as usual with no changes.
COVID-19 regulations for all sports include regular temperature and symptom checks for all players and coaches before every practice and contest. Spectators at TSSAA events will be required to have temperature checks, wear face coverings and socially distance. Member schools are encouraged to limit attendance and discouraged from offering concessions.
Band members and cheerleaders are also required to undergo temperature and symptom checks before entering practices and contests. The TSSAA discourages the use of bands altogether.
See the complete sports regulations, rules modifications and contingency plans on the Tennessee Returns To Play page at TSSAA.org.
By Brad Sam