After weeks of anticipation as to what would happen with preps fall sports in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TSSAA has decided to leave ultimate authority in Gov. Bill Lee's hands as to when they will begin.

On Wednesday at Siegel High School, the TSSAA decided to create a new hybrid plan for football and approved an established one for girls soccer.

They also made a host of other decisions for the fall.

“The regulations and guidelines the Board passed today go into effect immediately for all sports,” said Bernard Childress, Executive Director of the TSSAA, in a release. “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.

“We are working hand-in-hand with the Governor’s Office,” Childress continued in the release. “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.”

The approved football plan is split into two parts, both depending on when the governor's Executive Order 50 will expire. This order limits regular contact sports for high schools through Aug. 29. 

Right now, if things hold as is, contingency plan two was signed off on by the TSSAA's Board of Control as the way to go for football right now. 

This option will involve an Aug. 30 practice start and Sept. 18 regular season start and will involve eight games for the regular season and an abbreviated 16-team playoff bracket.

Only region winners and runners-up would be eligible for the playoffs in this situation. The two extra regular season games still would be allowed for non-playoff teams. 

The TSSAA would reset the regional schedules itself in these two scenarios. 

But, in the event the order lapses on or before Aug. 3 or at any time before Aug. 29, the hybrid plan would kick in, putting the season on a week-by-week basis in terms of how it would be plotted. 

Essentially, football practice right now will start when the executive order ends, either early or on the timeline of plan two. 

Schedules would not reset in this scenario, and the season would begin as soon as possible (there would be time blocked out for a few weeks of conditioning).

No scrimmages or practices with other schools are approved at any time this fall in any sport, in a separate decision for TSSAA COVID-19 guidelines made Wednesday (see below). 

It wasn't entirely clear at the time of publication when, for the hybrid plan, would be the earliest a team could play, but August football seemed to be a distinct possibility in the discussions. Aug. 17 and 24 game starts would technically be possible under this plan.

The hybrid plan would also leave the status of continuing high school football each week during the pandemic determined by the situation at hand. There is always a possibility football could be canceled altogether if the pandemic worsens and the state changes its guidelines.

So, in essence, when preps football in Tennessee starts will come down to the governor's office and its decision on Exec. Order 50. 

If it expires early, football and all other contact sports would begin immediately. This leaves the possibility for August games alive. If it holds in place through Aug. 29 or gets extended, the earliest there would be football games in the state would be Sept. 18. 

Girls soccer plan approved 

The girls soccer season has an approved contingency plan in place by the TSSAA, which would also solely lean on the state of the governor's order. 

If the order limiting regular contact sports expires early (by Aug. 10), the season can continue on as planned. If the order does not expire past that Aug. 10 date, the season will shift two weeks and begin Sept. 7 at the earliest with time for preseason added in. 

In the contingency plan, the state tournaments would be held Nov. 11-14. In the current schedule, they're slated for Oct. 28-31.

One soccer coach in the area, Christ Presbyterian Academy's Tom Gerlach, shared his frustration with the decision. 

"Contrary to what’s being reported, there isn’t a 'hard start date' for girls soccer in TN," he shared. "It’s possible that it could start as early as July 27, or August 10, OR Sept. 7.

"...Which means planning for season extremely difficult. Several coaches have called or texted to discuss try outs, practice schedules, game schedules.... don’t get me wrong, I would take this over what happened in the spring, but it certainly isn’t cut and dry." 

The Ravenwood soccer account shared this: "OK WillCo, let’s do what we can to keep case numbers going in the right direction so these girls can have a season. Players make good choices. Your actions could affect your entire team." 

COVID-19 guidelines approved, fan attendance up to schools 

The TSSAA also approved a lengthy list of COVID-19 guidelines for all member schools to adhere to during the 2020-21 school year.

The key decision here would be that the TSSAA is not going to regulate fan attendance, leaving that up to the schools to decide.

The organization will require all who attend TSSAA events, though, wear masks and have their temperature checked prior to attending. 

Games being held at full capacity will be incredibly unlikely, though, with potential crowds at a third and a quarter of their normal capacity discussed during the meeting. 

The full list of guidelines are below. 

- Temperature checks for all coaches, players and personnel will be mandatory prior to all practices. If someone has a 100.4 fever or greater, that person will be sent home immediately. Only way someone can return: turn in negative COVID-19 test or a doctor's notice saying as much.

- No coach, player or team personnel can participate in practice without participating in a COVID-19 screening (a standard questionnaire that's been used by many throughout the pandemic). These will be conducted weekly.

- No scrimmages, jamborees, 7-on-7 participation or opponent school practices will be allowed in the pandemic. Volleyball is included in this. Only inter-team practices will be allowed; no engagement with opposing teams until the first official contest.

- Anyone who comes into a game must have their temperature checked, from team members to fans. TSSAA stresses this is necessary for any contests to happen this fall. No one with 100.4 temperature or higher will be admitted to facility. Schools will monitor this.

- The COVID-19 questionnaires will be required to be posted at all contest venues, too, per the TSSAA.

- Fan attendance will be determined by the schools themselves; TSSAA will not regulate this. It recommends all schools limit fan attendance to adhere to social distancing (blocking out seats to distance spectators). Games would very likely not be at capacity, regardless, with crowds of a third or a quarter of their original size cited during meeting as possibilities. 

- Face masks will be required by TSSAA for all who are on-site at competitions, though. Only exception are those under the age of 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations on masks factored into this decision. 

- School band/pep band, cheerleaders and students who are in attendance will follow same guidelines for temperature checks, questionnaires and distancing guidelines as all in attendance.

- TSSAA says PSAs must be made from PA boxes if possible about wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Cleaning staffs will be needed for bathrooms and other facilities to keep things as sanitary as possible. 

- Concession stands are discouraged by the TSSAA this year, but that will ultimately be up to schools as to if they will be open. Masks and social distancing needed for those who work in them, though.

- TSSAA also says coaches must take a TSSAA-approved online COVID-19 course prior to coaching this year. 

The board also ruled Wednesday to not let schools who participate in distance learning be barred from competing in TSSAA-sanctioned activities.

Per the release, "The board also tackled how to handle a COVID-19 breakout as it pertains to competition in both the regular and postseason. 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.'" 

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