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Tennessee now has a roadmap for both high school football and girls’ soccer in the fall.

Convening its Board of Control Wednesday in Murfreesboro, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) approved measures to outline the potential for a nearly complete football and girls’ soccer season.

The league also adopted unanimously its COVID-19 guidelines and procedures required of all member institutions who wish to compete in all athletics in the 2020-21 calendar school year.

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

What the association does not yet have is an exact start date for competitions. The reasoning there is fairly straightforward: Tennessee high schools and their athletics programs, as well as myriad other entities, cannot begin practices and/or games in contact sports under Gov. Bill Lee’s current State of Emergency Order. Executive Order No. 50 promotes “social distancing and avoidance of large gatherings” and limits activities in contact sports.

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

For football’s “Option 2 Hybrid” plan, the state preserves the potential for a 10-game regular season and full playoff format, but also lays the groundwork for what could become an eight-game season with a reduced playoff field for Division I.

The plan perhaps is most succinctly summarized as thus: Once the state of Tennessee reaches the date of Aug. 4 and the governor’s executive order declaring a State of Emergency still stands, region games originally scheduled for Week 1 of the prep football season will be moved to later, common dates that TSSAA already has modeled. As each week passes where no contact is allowed, the next week’s region games are rescheduled.

For Greg McCullough, Memphis Central principal and TSSAA Board of Control vice president, keeping schools’ schedules nearly intact was a strong positive. The original Plan 2, as conceived, would have gutted all schedules statewide and left coaches scrambling to fill multiple open dates.

“Just my personal opinion, but having lived that scheduling nightmare already, this makes sense to me, but it needs to be explained well to coaches,” McCullough said. “This allows a better option for all schools and gives a chance for schools to play as many games as they can possibly get.”

Now, with a vote on the Option 2 Hybrid, there is a potential start date in place and a plan for the season to begin as early as Aug. 21 or as late as Sept. 18.

The TSSAA already had modeled how it would handle the potentially affected region games slated for the original opening week of the season with the following example:

William Blount and Maryville High School are scheduled to play each other at the onset of the season; both teams have non-region games in Week 7. The Govs are set to play Elizabethton while Maryville is scheduled to face Knoxville powerhouse Fulton. Maryville and William Blount, under the Option 2 Hybrid, would then face each other Week 7. Elizabethton and Fulton could work to play each other, find another game or have an open date. Only region games are mandatory.

“As of this past Monday, football teams were permitted to begin their heat acclimatization, which can be done without contact,” said Richard McWhirter, TSSAA Assistant Executive Director. “Understanding though, that heat acclimatization is ‘per athlete,’ I recommend that schools get students’ acclimatization done as soon as possible. Athletes that have completed acclimatized by the time the contact order is lifted are then ready to begin full contact practice.”

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.”

Additionally, for all sports and not merely the upcoming fall divisions of cross country, golf, volleyball, football and girls’ soccer, the TSSAA and its board voted unanimously to allow students whose school systems are beginning with remote instruction to still be allowed as full participants in all sports.

On the girls’ soccer front, in an effort to maximize the number of games and opportunities for competition, the TSSAA adopted a measure to begin the season Sept. 7 – if Gov. Lee’s order is lifted after its current August 29 expiration date – with a regular season spanning eight weeks from beginning to end and championships set for Nov. 11-14. If the order is lifted prior to Aug. 10, the season and championships will proceed as usual with no changes.

Additionally, the organization voted to allow girls’ soccer teams that either do not qualify for postseason or which are eliminated prior to the championships to schedule additional games, up to the maximum number, in order to achieve a full season of competition. This builds in some flexibility in the event multiple matches are cancelled or postponed in the season due to the virus.

“This gives schools the chance for the maximum number of playing regular-season contests,” said TSSAA Assistant Director Mark Reeves. “We will continue allowing schools to play regular-season games even after eliminated or failing to qualify for the postseason. They are not to exceed that number (10) but at least they have the opportunity to get to it.”

TSSAA COVID-19 Regulations

1. Temperature checks are required for all coaches, players, and team personnel prior to every practice. Anyone whose temperature measures 100.4 or greater must be sent home immediately and may not return to participation until he/she provides documentation that they have tested negative for COVID-19 or obtained a medical evaluation by a physician verifying that COVID-19 is not the cause of his/her fever.

2. No coach, player, or team personnel may participate in practice or a contest without first completing appropriate COVID-19 screening. Persons should not participate while ill. If the answer is “YES” to any of the following questions, the coach, player, or team personnel may not participate until obtaining an evaluation by a medical provider verifying his/her fitness to safely do so:

• Have you had any of the following symptoms in the past 7 days?

• Fever

• Cough

• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

• Shaking chills

• Chest pain, pressure, or tightness with exercise

• Fatigue or difficulty with exercise

• Racing heart rate

• Unusual dizziness

• Loss of taste or smell

• Sore throat

• Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

• Unusual rash or painful discoloration of fingers or toes

• Do you have moderate to severe asthma, a heart condition, diabetes, chronic kidney or liver disease, or take medication or have a medical condition that weakens your immune system?

• Have you or a family/household member been diagnosed with or tested positive for COVID-19 infection or been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 14 days?

3. No scrimmages, jamborees, 7-on-7 practice, or other types of practice with other teams is permitted.

4. At contests all coaches, players, team personnel, officials, administrators, and fans must have their temperatures checked before entering the facility. No one whose temperature measures 100.4 or greater may be admitted.

5. At each contest the following symptom checklist shall be posted prominently at the spectator entrance(s) instructing that anyone who is experiencing any of these symptoms during the preceding 7 days must not be admitted:

• Fever

• Cough

• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

• Shaking chills

• Chest pain, pressure, or tightness with exercise

• Fatigue or difficulty with exercise

• Racing heart rate

• Unusual dizziness

• Loss of taste or smell

• Sore throat

• Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

• Unusual rash or painful discoloration of fingers or toes

6. At contests in localities where fan attendance is permitted, member schools are encouraged to limit fan attendance to a number that will allow adequate social distancing (e.g., 1/4 to 1/3 of typical seating capacity, depending on the characteristics of the particular venue) and should mark/designate bleachers or seats in order to promote social distancing among spectators.

7. Member schools will require that all fans wear facial coverings at all times while onsite (except children under age 2) and maintain social distancing (six feet, or the equivalent of two empty seats between themselves and other fans) from anyone other than those living in the same household.

8. The temperature check and questionnaire requirements of Items 1 and 2 above, as well as the social distancing requirement of Item 7, shall also apply to members of a school band or pep band, cheerleaders, or other similar student groups attending a contest in a supporting role. Due to the potential increased risk of virus transmission during certain activities, the use of school bands at contests is discouraged. If the band is present, limit to a halftime performance or relocate the band from the standsto other available areas away from crowds and increase the amount of physical distance between band members. Increase the amount of physical distance between cheerleaders as well as between cheerleaders and other persons if projected voices are to be used.

9. If a public address system is in use for a contest, the host school will make public service announcements at various times during the contest to remind those in attendance to use masks and maintain physical distancing.

10. The host school is responsible for providing staff to engage in frequent cleaning and sanitizing of restroom facilities during contests.

11. Concession stands are discouraged because they tend to invite gatherings of people in close quarters. If a member school chooses to operate a concession stand at a contest, signage or other appropriate markings must be in place to encourage customers to maintain physical distancing while standing in line.

All concession stand workers must wear facial coverings and must maintain as much physical distance as possible in the confines of the concession stand.

12. All coaches must complete the free NFHS online course “COVID-19 for Coaches and Administrators” before the first contest.

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