With the news coming down from Gov. Bill Lee's office about continuing Tennessee's State of Emergency, the TSSAA has decided to postpone the start of the high school football season.
While a full season cancellation still feels a ways off, a delayed and even shortened season is here with contact sports halted through Aug. 29.
The Williamson County football season was set to get underway Aug. 21, but now, how football will go this fall, if it even stays in the fall, is very much up for speculation.
When will it resume? Who will be there? How many games will play? How long will the playoffs be?
We decided to do our best at the Home Page to answer those very questions. What might a football season look like in Williamson County this fall?
Note: this is all pure speculation, only a dart's throw at what we think might work.
No football until late September/early October
It would be startling to go until the start of actual fall for the start of the high school football season, but it might be the most realistic scenario.
Under the governor's mandate, the limit would expire for no close contact sports on Aug. 29. That means the soonest a team could get underway with an actual padded practice would be Sunday, Aug. 30.
That means, if the season started on Sept. 4, the earliest Friday possible, teams would have less than a week to prepare. That's virtually impossible for preps football for safety and logistic reasons alone.
High school athletes playing football need time to practice wearing pads. Traditionally, players have about three weeks or a little under a month with pads on before the first week of the regular season. That encompasses "two-a-days," scrimmages and other preseason activities that get the players acclimated to playing in football gear and familiar with the season's playbook.
Teams would need time to get those reps in, with at least one scrimmage very likely and needed.
If a padded offseason started, say, Monday, Aug. 31, teams could practice for two weeks and perhaps be ready for scrimmages on Friday, Sept. 11. If a team felt that they were ready to go, the season could begin Friday, Sept. 18.
But that's dependent on how much time the TSSAA feels comfortable giving its football players the time to get properly conditioned. Keeping the dead period intact and a limited spring conditioning schedule will put a lot of focus on July for teams to make up for lost time.
Keeping the student-athletes safe is the primary concern, not only from COVID-19, but from unnecessary injuries caused by a lack of proper conditioning/practice and a lack of comfort with the playbook.
Two weeks of a shortened offseason in pads, perhaps a scrimmage in there at some point, and a Sept. 18 or 25 start feels certainly possible. Anything sooner might unnecessarily put the football players at a different kind of risk and lessen the competitive nature of the games.
Teams play a shortened season
Let's say football gets underway Sept. 18. This would give teams almost three weeks of padded practice and perhaps a scrimmage to get ready for a season of football, and would delay things by about a month from where they were.
The 10-game season would be a bit difficult to pull off unless you substantially gut the postseason - you'd be finishing regulation after Thanksgiving.
The key is getting your district games in. A team needs those to form district rankings for playoff seeding. Moving the regular season games from 10 to seven could help wrap up the regular season, in this scenario, by Oct. 30 (right around when they'd normally wrap up).
You'd remove the bye week and just give everyone a week off after the regular season finale and kick in the playoffs for Nov. 13.
In this scenario, you'd eliminate the first week of the playoffs and go straight into the second round of your respective bracket. This would not quite allow for as many teams to qualify, but it would get the best teams altogether for a chance to compete for a state title.
What games do you cut in the regular season, you might ask?
While it doesn't quite sound as fun, it'd go from the non-region schedule. Let's take Brentwood, for example.
If you remove three non-region games from the slate, the team has its five district games (Ravenwood, Franklin, Centennial, Independence, Dickson Co.) and two non-district games (to be chosen between MBA, CPA, Henry Co., Knox Catholic, Cane Ridge).
We imagine long traveling for games would be nixed in the regular season first, so let's remove Henry Co. and Knox Catholic from the equation. Take away one other game from that group, and the team has a shortened schedule ready to play. This is all speculation, of course.
The home vs. away balance would get tricky, and inevitably, some teams would play more at home than away, and some would have it vise versa.
In a COVID-19 world, it won't be completely fair, but it will allow athletes one where they get seven regular season games in before a slightly-shortened playoffs and a normal state schedule.
So, in our guess, the season is delayed, players have a few weeks to get into rhythm in pads, a few non-region games get cancelled and the playoffs are shortened by a week.
We'd start football by mid-September and close right on time in December.
Would fans be there?
The next line of business would be who would be allowed to come to the games.
Having packed stands like you normally might see on any given Williamson County Friday night won't happen in a COVID-19 world. Having fans there in general, though, might not be as unlikely as you might think.
If you look at the recent graduation ceremonies going on around middle Tennessee, it's allowed for members of family to attend, though in limited fashion.
What could happen might be similar to the policy the TSSAA put in place during March's girls basketball state tournaments before they were cancelled altogether.
It would see that only essential personnel for teams (full rosters, coaches and support staff) would be present, as would families of players, school administrators and members of the media.
This could be the group that's allowed into football games this fall. A list could be submitted ahead of time with folks allowed into the games, limiting other folks attending.
Families could continue to watch their kids play football, and teams would have all players and managers present for game day.
The one exception that could be made would be for seniors to cheer their teams on at home. Schools could space out the bleachers so that senior fans could distance in the stands and still be able to cheer on their favorite teams. This would be harder to accomplish on the road, where it could be limited to families only.
All in attendance would be required to wear a mask, of course, with the exception of the athletes playing in the games. Temperature checks at the gate feel like a given, too.
This way, football bleachers aren't nearly as packed as they normally would be for football games, limiting the spread of the virus.
So, we have a delayed and shortened football season with fewer people in attendance. What about the particulars?
Altered locker rooms, rampant testing, possible positive tests?
When it comes to the details of how a season would go in the day-to-day, it gets trickier to predict.
Schools have not indicated yet what the year may look like for students, or how daily protocols will be followed or what those would be in the first place. It's hard to know exactly what this COVID-19 reality will be for athletes, but we can make some guesses.
Temperature checks, as much distancing during practice and games as possible, masks being made available for most all situations and regular testing feel like the easy solutions. It gets more complex when you consider various scenarios.
Players could get prepared for practice in altered locker rooms, spaced out so players aren't close together. Locker rooms could be closed altogether, as they are historically known for spreading germs and sickness in general.
Teams could be tested on Friday and know by Monday if they are positive for the virus. The troubling notion is what happens if a player tests positive, which is likely to happen at least once this season?
We don't know how long a team would have to stop practice or be removed from a game, or if it would be handled player-to-player. At the least, the positive player would be quarantined for two weeks, the facilities would get a deep clean and everyone with the team would get tested for the virus.
We also don't know what happens if someone at a school where people play football tests positive for the virus. Does that respective school shut down? Would that impact the football team? Would teams have to forfeit or postpone games in any of these situations?
Really, it's a murky future for football this fall when you break it down.
In theory, you can delay and shorten the season, limit those in attendance at games and take precautions in all phases of the game to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible.
But it's still a pandemic. Positive cases feel bound to happen once athletic congregating commences, and it just depends on how frequent it is and how widespread the infections as to just how rocky of a season it'll be.
For positive signs, conditioning seems to have been going well for football players up to the dead period, and we've not heard of any school having to shut down its facilities for COVID.
Brentwood Academy saw an NFL player test positively for the virus while using its facilities, but no preps athletes were in participation with those workouts.
The virus could dwindle a bit before the actual season starts, too. It's at a high point right now, but we've seen it drop when communities practice proper distancing and wear masks.
Really, how football goes this fall might just be up to how the state does to flatten its curve by the end of August. If numbers stay high, things could get delayed even further. It's possible things could even shift into the new year.
Could it be called off altogether? That's also certainly possible. But after the TSSAA waited until late April to call off the spring season, all indications seems to point toward the state giving football every chance in the world to have a season.
At least in our speculation, this is how it might go.