Tennessee high school football coaches learned Tuesday the 2020 season won’t start on time.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association sent out a memo saying so Tuesday, one day after Gov. Bill Lee extended a state of emergency due to COVID-19 through Aug. 29.
Football games in Tennessee were supposed to be played Aug. 21 and 28, but that will not be possible under the order.
Collinwood coach Scotty Hannah would like to see a 10-game regular season prioritized, even if it means making only the top two teams in each region eligible for the playoffs instead of four.
Hannah said this despite knowing Collinwood has entered the playoffs as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed previously and would not have qualified in those years under such a format.
But he said this gives a team more incentive to work toward the top two spots and helps each team preserve money from game attendance.
“That’d be fine with me,” Hannah said. “Financially, it would be better for us because we still get those non-region games.”
Wayne County coach Cary Crews agreed he prefers that setup over another proposal some coaches have informally discussed, which would be to have an shortened regular season but keep the playoffs as they usually are, with four teams from each region qualifying.
Wayne County’s first game was originally set to be a non-region home game against local rival Loretto on Aug. 21.
“From a financial perspective, we’d really like to have the Loretto game,” Crews said.
Crews pointed out the first round of the playoffs typically features a number of mismatches anyway.
Lawrence County coach David Marston said he wants to see a 10-game regular season as well.
“We want to play a full season,” Marston said. “ … We don’t care if it goes into cold weather. We need the revenue from our non-region games.”
Loretto coach Barry Daniel said while he hopes to see a 10-game regular season, it’s more important to him to have four playoff qualifiers per region.
“Eight games and playoffs would be better than 10 games and nothing (as a third- or fourth-place team),” Daniel said. “If we can keep the playoffs intact, that’s what I’m for.”
The memo says games will be restricted through Aug. 29 in “contact sports” (football and girls soccer) but did not specifically address competition in golf, cross country or volleyball.
Alabama high schools are currently scheduled to start football season on time, but Tennessee’s announcement will affect Alabama teams that had Tennessee opponents on the schedule.
Rogers was set to open football season with a home game against Richland on Thursday, Aug. 20, and Florence was scheduled to travel to Brentwood the next night.
Hannah has been frustrated to see districts throughout Tennessee set different guidelines for practice, meaning some teams have been practicing with few restrictions and others haven’t practiced at all. He wants the TSSAA to set one specific policy for everyone.
“It’s kind of almost like the wild, wild west,” Hannah said. “ … I just hope they give us a plan, and I hope it’s something that’s uniform throughout the state because that’s not the way things have been to this point.”
Marston scoffed at one suggestion he heard, to start the season as scheduled despite state guidelines and have everyone sign a waiver saying they understood the risks of playing football.
“We’ve got to do what the health department and governor are saying,” he said.
Daniel said he thinks everyone at Loretto would be open to the season going later into the year given what happened earlier this year. The school’s girls and boys basketball teams reached the state tournament but didn’t get a chance to finish the season, and a promising baseball season barely got started.
“All that was just taken from them,” Daniel said.
Crews’ son Cade will be a senior at Wayne County this year, and the coach said the Wildcats will take whatever the TSSAA gives them in terms of a season.
“You just hope that this class of seniors statewide gets an opportunity to play their senior year,” Crews said. “Nothing like Friday night with your buddies. Those are memories you can’t ever replace.”