Has COVID-19 created an escape clause for football?

Published 5:16 pm Thursday, October 8, 2020

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I, like many others from coaches to administrators and media to players, wondered if there would be a prep football season in 2020.

For the longest time, that appeared to be in the balance like a defendant waiting for the grand jury to return with a murder verdict.

When Governor Bill Lee signed off on the approval for football to proceed and the TSSAA had their required regulations in place, the season was given a cardiac shock, and shouts of celebration went up throughout the state.

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Now removed seven weeks from the start of the season, and it appears more and more like the COVID-19 has been used to somewhat of an advantage by some teams in the state who are pinning reasons for not playing on the pandemic whether that is the case or perhaps not.

This week was suppose to be Homecoming Week for the Elizabethton Cyclones who were slated to host Union County in a region contest. The game was canceled last week with COVID-19 being the justifying cause.

Now, please don’t get me wrong – if there is an issue with COVID-19 in Union County by no means should they be playing anyone. However, the Cyclones were not the first team to be canceled out on by the team from Maynardsville as Sullivan South and Greeneville experience the same fate.

Now, I am not a rocket scientist but if I was a head coach who had been beaten by more than 50 points by an average Grainger County team, I may or may not want to bring my kids to these three schools either to suffer potentially the same or worse tail beating.

To make matters worse, teams that had to cancel games due to COVID-19 were not even interested in taking a game against the Cyclones either even though some of these schools were offered money, food before and after the game, and anything else the EHS coaching staff and administrators could offer within means.

Now I get it. You are talking about the defending 2019 Class 4A state champions who are playing like the same in 2020 having beaten two Class 6A teams in Science Hill and William Blount and a top-notch 5A school in Boone.

However, these same schools were moaning and groaning the fact that they desperately wanted to play football in the 2020 season and didn’t want to lose any games except when it comes to being able to play teams who are playing at a high level right now.

With three weeks remaining in the regular season, it might not come as a shock if other teams will take the same escape clause not only with Elizabethton but other teams who are priming themselves for a postseason run and playing good football.

And with the TSSAA basically turning all decisions over to individual regions to handle and not stepping in to urge teams that are having canceled contests to pick up another team especially if they are in close proximity then that leaves teams sitting idle on Friday night that could be playing and not losing an opportunity to compete.

The most concerning point right now for coaches like Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten is the possibility that there could only be two more regular-season contests against Greeneville and Sullivan South with the slightest of possibilities that Central may or may not elect to cancel the last game of the season.

If that scenario played out, the Cyclones would have two games left in four weeks.

Also looming is the fact that if Elizabethton does get a one or two-seed and are slated to play at home against a three or four-seed from the Chattanooga area, that team might elect not to travel to Elizabethton with the high likely hood of getting hammered by the Cyclones and feeling the trip is not worth it due to financial constraints with traveling that far.

That would possibly mean that the Cyclones might only have two games within a five-game span which doesn’t fair well for a team looking to repeat without having competition each week to make them better.

I, for one, am hoping that I can look back in five weeks and say how stupid I was to think of such scenarios. However, my fear is that I could possibly be right and that would be a crying shame after what football had to endure just leading up to the season.

Hopefully, the escape clause will be left off the table and teams will finish what they started regardless of the final outcome on the scoreboard.