Rushing to find a vaccine for COVID-19 makes sense because people are dying.
But why is high school football in a mad dash to start “on time?” And what exactly is “on time?”
Step back a minute. Breathe. Let’s think this through.
Football practice was originally supposed to start July 27. The season was scheduled to begin Aug. 21.
That’s 25 days.
But the pandemic got worse in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Lee put an order in place that prohibited contact sports from practicing. By the time he lifted the order, football practice didn’t begin until Aug. 3.
That’s 18 days.
And yet somehow, football teams across the state are like, “Let’s do this! We can be ready in 18 days!”
If that’s easily doable, will football teams need only 18 days to prepare for the 2021 season? Can we take away a week of practice from here on out? Insert your own answer here, but I’m thinking it would be a big old-fashioned “no.” Short and sweet.
Earlier this week, Greeneville, Johnson County, Sullivan North and Happy Valley shut down football practice. Greeneville canceled its season-opening game.
Then on Thursday, Cloudland, Hampton and Unaka shut down, each canceling their season openers. Happy Valley was scheduled to play Cloudland, so the Warriors are out for Aug. 21 as well. The Highlanders and Bulldogs were scheduled to play Aug. 28, and that has been canceled.
Hancock County, which is in Region 1 with Unaka and Cloudland, also shut down and canceled its first two games.
And yet, here we rush toward Aug. 21. Why?
Is it human nature? Kind of like, “Well, if we get started it will feel like we’re going to have a season. So the sooner we start, the better.”
Or maybe it’s the dogged desire to play a full 10-game season. Again, why?
One of the best programs in the state, Whitehaven, won’t be playing 10 games — or even nine games, for that matter. It’s not the end of the world.
Ten games is just an arbitrary number someone decided a long time ago — like using 10 pins in bowling, nine positions on the baseball diamond or each basket counts as two points in hoops (unless you shoot from way out yonder, and then we’ll give you three).
Another weird thing about the high school rush to Aug. 21 is the opposite approach by college football. Programs across the country are tearing up schedules, redoing them, delaying starts or not playing at all.
So why is high school football so determined to play games in the scheduled first week?
It may be about money. Every home game that is lost will take a bite out of an athletic department already facing a major shortfall because of reduced attendance. But that’s not a strong enough reason.
There could be another way to deal with the expected shortfall. High school football fans could consider donating to the schools what they would have spent for tickets this year — or least some percentage of that money — even if they don’t get to see a game.
It won’t replace concession-stand losses, but it would help athletic programs.
But let’s go back to the “on time” question. Not everybody seems to agree what “on time” means for high school athletics, but we are in a pandemic. Things are different this year and therefore “on time” can be different.
Eight schools at this end of the state have already shut football down. That’s a pretty solid body of evidence.
The TSSAA could help. It could push the entire season back by one week, starting everything on Aug. 28 — or maybe even two weeks to Sept. 4.
“Right now the season is a mess and nowhere in Tennessee is a good place as far as case numbers,” said Unaka coach O’Brien Bennett. “We might as well delay for everyone and keep as much intact as possible.”
Will that happen? The TSSAA isn’t fond of ideas it doesn’t come up with on its own. And it pretends it can’t do things it actually could, like saying four classes in football couldn’t be done. I guess the argument was the regions might be too far-flung. Oh, like Cloudland being in the same region with Jellico or Anderson County playing in a Chattanooga league? Yeah, can’t have that. Except that we do.
The TSSAA might say, “The vast majority of schools want to start football on Aug. 21.” And it might be an accurate statement.
I get it. I want football to start, too.
But more than I want football to start, I want it to finish. I remember what basketball looked like. I remember how terrible we all felt for the kids at Sullivan South. It was a dream season, and they didn’t get to finish.
Ask those kids if they would have traded three November games — or even all of December — for a chance to play for a state title.
It seems right now there’s more of a chance of ruining the whole season if we sprint like crazy to Aug. 21.
Could we pump the brakes, just in case we’re going too fast?