Let’s call it tempered optimism.
That’s the feeling I came away with after listening to the TSSAA’s Board of Control meeting Wednesday morning. An online meeting which was originally slated to discuss classification ended up pivoting to a lengthy session regarding the high school football season following Gov. Bill Lee’s extension of Tennessee’s state of emergency order until Aug. 29.
That order goes past the Friday of Week 2 of the regular season, which sent coaches into warp speed looking for alternatives to get the season in if it couldn’t proceed as originally scheduled. Some of those options were shot down on sight by the Board of Control, especially those that involved moving football into the spring of 2021.
However, several options did emerge from the meeting, all of which have football coming this fall provided no further extension of the state of emergency. A decision is expected on July 8.
Here’s the order I think they should be considered in, including the one option that to me is a non-starter:
1. Option 2: 8-game regular season, 16-team playoffs (top two in each region advance)
To me, Option 2 is the best option for a couple of reasons. First, if the regular season really is only going to be region games, every region will have a way to fit those in. In Division II, Class A has a 10-team region – look for that to be split into smaller divisions for this season to help with scheduling. The smaller regions can have each team play all the others twice in a home-and-home scenario. (Under current TSSAA rules, if you do play a region team twice in one season, only the first game counts toward playoff seeding.)
Secondly, we see it every year where the first round of playoffs is largely made up of mismatches. Those crowds are lower and it’s a less competitive scenario. Though I’d rather see the top three seeds advance and each region champion get a first-round bye, sending two in this situation is fine.
You can still earn home-field advantage for a playoff game for winning your region. That’s a carrot that needs to be dangled out for teams to try and achieve. Winning a region championship should be meaningful and this proposal would keep it that way.
2. Option 1: 7-game regular season, full playoffs
It’s a toss-up between options 1 and 3 for this spot. But I give Option 1 the nod if only because earning home-field advantage is still on the table with the full postseason as opposed to sending only region winners to the playoffs.
Normally, when you get to the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, which year it is determines which side of the bracket gets the home game. That’s not a great way to determine home field at such a critical juncture of the season.
In the 9-game option, that’s exactly what you’re doing for the entire playoffs. A 9-0 region champion may have to travel because it’s an even-numbered year. How fair is that? It’s not, so the 9-game option should really be the last resort.
3. Option 3: 9-game regular season, only region champions advance
I’m not going to repeat myself, so see No. 2 above if you didn’t get it the first time.
4. Option 4: 10-game regular season, no playoffs
Hard pass. Kids want to play for championships and while a region championship is nice, it doesn’t replace the playoff intensity. Forget this option ever existed and let’s move on.
On a side note, I like the idea of giving non-playoff teams extra games. Bring back the bowl games. We really should reduce the playoff field anyway – send the top two and let third and fourth place teams (provided they have .500 or better records) play in bowl games.
Of course, the governor’s office could fix the oversight they made Monday – loop high school sports in with college and pros – and we can move toward a full season with an on-time start. That’s what they should have done in the first place.
But you all must be good teammates in order for that to happen. Wear a mask in public so these kids have a fighting chance. Don’t let selfishness ruin their hard work.
Because then tempered optimism would turn to extreme disappointment. And no one wants that.