High school football and girls soccer seasons will be delayed in Tennessee, but there are options on the table for the games to still be played this fall.
On Monday, Gov. Bill Lee extended Tennessee’s state of emergency declaration through at least Aug. 29. The order includes the limitation of contact sports “with a requirement or substantial likelihood of routine close contact” and prevents most gatherings of 50 or more people.
While the order does not apply to college or professional sports, there was no caveat for prep sports. TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress released a statement Tuesday in response to the extension.
“While the Governor’s order is in place, member schools cannot have any competition or scrimmage with other schools and cannot have close contact activities during their fundamental practice in the sports of football, 7-on-7 football, girls soccer, wrestling and basketball,” he said.
Girls soccer and football were both slated to begin their regular seasons the week of Aug. 17. That timeline must now be pushed back, but non-contact fall sports like cross country, golf and volleyball are permitted to start their seasons on time.
“They’re not considered (to be) in the high-risk category,” Childress said.
The TSSAA Board of Control met Wednesday morning to discuss how to proceed with contact fall sports. Childress recommended that the start of girls soccer season be pushed back a few weeks and state championships be played at a later date.
Three options were presented for football season. Each of them included beginning contact practices on Aug. 30 and games on Sept. 18:
1. Seven-game regular season, 32 playoff teams and a full postseason. Teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs could schedule two additional games.
2. Eight-game regular season, 16 playoff teams with one less week of postseason play. Teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs could schedule two additional games.
3. Nine-game regular season, eight playoff teams and only region champions advance to the postseason. Teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs could schedule one additional game.
A fourth option of a 10-game regular season with no state championships was also mentioned, but Childress said that plan did not have much support from the Tennessee Football Coaches Association.
The TSSAA will not permit preseason football jamborees or scrimmages under any of the plans.
TSSAA Assistant Executive Director Mark Reeves said he has been in contact with the Governor’s office about exempting high school sports from the latest emergency declaration. That would allow contact practices to begin in late July and seasons to potentially start on time, but a final decision has not been made.
“(The state) simply said, ‘We are willing to listen,’” Childress said. “We did not get any inclination that we are going to be exempt.”
Given the uncertainty, the Board decided to allow schools time to consider the options. Another meeting to vote on the plans is set for Wednesday, July 8.
TSSAA schools are currently in the second week of the annual summer dead period, which bars coaches and athletes from participating in games or workouts on school property.
Districts throughout the state began socially distanced conditioning drills in June. Events involving more than one team like 7-on-7 passing leagues and soccer scrimmages will not be allowed in July, but contact sports teams can still condition, lift weights and do fundamental drills.
The original purpose of Wednesday’s called meeting was to discuss reclassification of schools. That talk has been tabled until the Board can meet in person.
An initial version of this article was published on Tuesday, June 30.