TSSAA OKs new calendar that gives more free time to athletes

Associated Press • Mar 17, 2007 at 1:00 AM

MURFREESBORO - Tennessee high school athletes will have more free time to themselves outside their sports seasons, especially football, under a new sports calendar adopted by the state's high school athletic association.

The legislative council of the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association adopted proposals Thursday by a 5-3 vote that adds six weeks of inactivity called "dead periods" for all sports with an extra three weeks given to football. That gives students eight weeks off from organized practices during the year beginning July 30.

TSSAA executive director Ronnie Carter said the group started working 18 months ago to create more balance for students and their families with high school sports.

"Is this perfect? Well, I'm sure you'll get debate from both sides. But what I know we've done is remove the sort of subtle pressure coaches have on kids out of season. That's a positive step in my mind," Carter said.

All high school athletes in Tennessee will have a three-week break from organized weightlifting, conditioning, open gyms and out-of-season practices and games after the end of a team's final, official game, with another three-week break at a time specific to each sport.

"It still allows the kids to do something they want to do away from school," Hendersonville soccer coach Russ Plummer said. "Everyone would like to have a minor thing here or there back. They did a good job looking at everything with the best for everyone in mind."

Basketball will have its three- week break before the start of fall practices, while football's second three-week break comes at the end of the school year. Coaches already could not have organized contact with their athletes during the last week of June and the first week of July. The TSSAA also cut the number of basketball games from 26 to 24.

"Some may disagree, but those are significant steps to giving kids time away from coaches, necessary time that before was deemed almost required in some cases," Carter said.

Compromises were made in the proposals, and coaches will have to plan more carefully around the dead periods.

Originally, basketball coaches would not have been allowed contact with players between July 15 and Oct. 15, but teams in West Tennessee where the only court in town is at school weren't happy with that approach. Daylong scrimmages that drew more than 20 schools and organized team camps run by colleges will need to be held in June starting next year.

The changes mean football teams won't be competing in 7-on-7 passing leagues or organized team practices after the school year ends until early July. Two scrimmages still will be allowed during spring practice, but Riverdale coach Ron Ayedelott said the June hit will be tough for schools that run camps.

"June can be pretty pivotal for certain schools," Ayedelott said.

But some coaches don't expect any effects on their teams.

"We don't do a whole lot in June except lift weights," Lincoln County coach Louis Thompson said. "We probably threw against another school two or three times. Other than that, it came out pretty good."

In baseball and softball, no organized practices will be allowed once the school year starts until Jan. 1, but coaches will be allowed to work with pitchers in activity that is considered conditioning. Players also can lift weights, but no more supervised batting practices or practices.

"I'm fine with all that," University School of Jackson baseball coach Brad Dyer said. "As long as my pitchers can throw, that's all I'm concerned about."

A new rule will limit the number of players from the same team playing with each other during the offseason with three for basketball and five each in baseball and softball.

"This in no way will take away from AAU basketball or travel baseball and softball teams," Carter said. "Basically, we're not going to tell kids how they can compete during the summer, but we're telling coaches how they can compete during the school year; and specifically in the months leading up to their seasons."

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