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Time to consider different approach for high school athletics

Douglas Fritz • Jul 1, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Football coaches often talk about taking what the defense gives you.

It’s time for the TSSAA — and everybody — to adopt that mindset when dealing with athletics and the global pandemic.

The coronavirus blitzes when it looks like a soft zone. It’s aggressive one play and more conservative the next. And since we don’t know what’s coming next, we need to plan according to information currently in hand.

Gov. Bill Lee’s extension Monday of Tennessee’s state of emergency to Aug. 29 was a game-changer. But here’s an approach high school athletics could take. This is not necessarily a specific diagram of how things should go, but more of an idea of how they could go.

There may be logistical hurdles, but it’s time to start gauging how difficult it would be to navigate the obstacles in stride. The following ideas could require tough choices and sacrifice, like a head coach turning over duties to an assistant if sports overlap.

But across this state we need to band together and work for the common goal of our young student-athletes simply having a chance to play.

FORGET ABOUT TRADITION

Tradition: Football is in the fall, baseball is in the spring.

2020: Whatever can be safely played under the governmental guidelines should be played in the fall. And it should start as soon as reasonably possible.

How this works: Let’s take baseball and softball first. They can play now, and they are. High school baseball teams are participating in a summer league in Johnson City, Elizabethton and other places — even under the current COVID cloud.

Those two sports could start their seasons in mid-August.

The twist: Baseball and softball should also play in the spring. Yes, that’s two seasons in one school year, but so what? They lost the 2020 season. Let’s give them two this time around.

But TSSAA rules don’t allow … STOP. Get out of the box. Thank you.

FOOTBALL IN THE SPRING

Part of the logic for this is hoping a vaccine will be available late this year. That may be a pipe dream, but if it occurs perhaps enough of the state’s population could be vaccinated before football season starts on Feb. 26.

How this works: Teams could play 10 games with a week off. Eight region champions would earn postseason berths with three weeks of playoffs ending May 28.

If schools across the state want region runners-up to also qualify for the playoffs, eliminate the bye week and have four weeks of postseason play.

The twist: Because baseball would have a second season in the spring, athletes will have to choose between sports. But this is not a bad thing. More juniors and seniors might opt to play football in the spring, having already played a season of baseball. This would mean the spring baseball season will be full of younger players getting opportunities to make contributions.

NUMBER OF GAMES

Tradition: We have to play X number of football, basketball and baseball games.

2020: Do you really want to align yourselves with the whining millionaires in Major League Baseball? A season could be half the normal number of games, but it’s still a season. If district, region and state champions are crowned, it’s legitimate as long as everybody is playing under the same rules.

But there is a compromise for a shorter season length. Sports like baseball and softball could play as many games as they want in the amount of calendar time allotted.

But TSSAA rules don’t allow … STOP. That box looks uncomfortable. Thank you.

Postseason: There would be no district tournament in the fall, and conference champions would earn berths in the region.

For quarterfinal, semifinal and championship matchups, games could be played at neutral sites equidistant between competing teams. Both sports could opt for a best-of-three championship series.

BASKETBALL 

This is the sport that presents a quandary. It is a contact sport, so has to wait along with football.

Basketball could start in mid-December if the pandemic allows or perhaps as late as Jan. 2.

But there would be no restrictions on the number of games played. Teams could also play one doubleheader each Saturday. It would be up to each school to decide the appropriate amount of games allowed.

Postseason: Two-day district tournaments for the top four finishers would be in the second week of February. The region tournament, for district champs and runners-up, would be later that same week.

Sectional games would be played on Monday (boys) and Tuesday (girls) the third week in February. The boys state tournament would run Wednesday through Friday of that week with the girls the following week. The flip-flop of state tournament schedules would allow boys athletes who wanted to play football an extra week to prepare for that sport.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SPORTS?

Bowling

Schedule remains unchanged

Cross country

Schedule remains unchanged

Golf

Schedule remains unchanged

Tennis

Play in the fall and the spring

Track and field

Compete in the fall (cross country athletes would choose that sport or track). Track and field would also have its regular spring season. Without football players, more doors could be open for state titles.

Volleyball

Schedule remains unchanged

Girls soccer

Move to a spring season

Boys soccer

Have a shortened spring season that ends the last week in April, which is followed by a second short season that would start in late May to allow football players a chance to compete.

Swimming

Schedule remains unchanged

Wrestling

Start in mid-December or Jan. 2. Shorten the regular season with no number-of-matches restriction. End state tournament prior to Feb. 26 to allow competitors to join their football teams.

Contact Douglas Fritz via email at dfritz@johnsoncitypress.com.

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