High school football fans can expect a different experience this fall when games kick off.
Smaller crowds with social distancing in place.
“We’ve been talking about it in theory, now it’s reality,” said Tullahoma football coach John Olive, whose team is scheduled to host Shelbyville on Aug. 20 to open the season. “What are the options? What can we do, and how do we do some things?
“And how do you enforce it? There are a lot of just really tough things that need to be worked out.”
The TSSAA adopted a set of guidelines in July for sports, with several dealing with fans.
- Fans, administrators, coaches, team personnel, officials and athletes must have their temperatures checked before entering a facility. Anyone with a temperature above 100.4 degrees will not be permitted to enter until they can provide documentation that they have tested negative for COVID-19 or obtained a medical evaluation from a physician verifying that COVID-19 is not the cause of the fever.
- At each game, a symptoms checklist will be visible and fans will not be allowed to enter if they have had those symptoms in the past seven days. Those symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and a loss of taste or smell.
- At games where fans are permitted, attendance is suggested to be between a quarter and a third capacity. Social distancing should be marked on the seats. Schools must be in compliance with state or local limits to gathering sizes for participation in public events.
- Face coverings are mandated for all fans except for children under 2. And there should be social distancing, with two empty seats between themselves and other fans except for those living in the same household.
- Fans entering will need to answer a set of questions.
- Concession stands are discouraged, but not banned. If there are concession stands, workers must wear face coverings and social distance around the stand is necessary.
- If a band is present, limit what it does to a halftime performance or relocate the band away from the crowd.
The guidelines set by the TSSAA were key in Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to remove TSSAA contact sports from an executive order set to be in place until Aug. 29. His executive order issued Tuesday was signed Friday allowing for contact sports to begin drills and keep seasons starting as originally scheduled.
Now, it’s up to schools to develop their own strategies in how they will enforce those guidelines. It’s not a one size fits all. The ideas differ from county to county and urban to rural.
“Ticketing is something we’re still working on,” Siegel athletic director Greg Wyant said. “Online ticketing will be new to some people. We’re going to go through GoFan, which is something everyone in our county, and a lot in the Midstate, use.”
Williamson County has also used the GoFan site and will continue to use it in a continued effort to try and not exchange money.
However, Hickman County coach Mike Smithson said that app would be more difficult at his school where phone coverage isn’t as strong and smartphones may not be as prevalent.
But the questions go beyond that.
How many fans can come?
How many fans will be allowed and how concessions can be offered safely are perhaps the two biggest obstacles for football programs as that revenue is crucial for their program’s survival.
Schools are using various methods to figure capacities. Some are using solely the number of people the stadium can hold. Others are factoring in how many can stand at the fence around the track. Others are considering adding portable bleachers for increased capacity.
“We are taking it as it says. It says capacity,” said Milan principal Greg Scott, a TSSAA Board of Control member. “So we are trying to figure out how many people would be able to come to our stadium on a regular Friday night and enjoy a football game, whether they are sitting or standing around the fence, and then we will base our ‘COVID capacity’ number off of that.
“We haven’t come up with the number yet. But I think in talking to other schools, our plans are similar.”
Scott said he believes there will be tickets reserved for the away team.
“You will get your ‘COVID capacity’ number, and then determine a number to give to the other school to sell,” Scott said. “We certainly want players, parents and cheerleaders to be able to attend all of the football games, whether home or away.”
Maryville hosts Alcoa on Sept. 11 in one of the biggest rivalry games in the state among perennial football powerhouses. It is the hottest ticket in East Tennessee when they play.
But Alcoa football coach Gary Rankin realizes this year will be different.
“It’s one of the biggest atmospheres in our state,” he said. “There’s been games where it’s standing room only. It’ll be an unusual situation this time. Hopefully we can put it on TV so people can watch it.”
Concessions also remain a challenge.
Some schools are looking at prepackaged food items and using only cans or bottles for beverages. They’ll mark off where people can stand. Some may even deliver items to people in the stands.
“We have prepackaged items,” Williamson County Schools athletic director Darrin Joines said. “We have to make sure that if there are lines, they are clearly marked. We’re maybe already a step ahead because we had already been talking about that with camps (that ended up being canceled).
“Maybe we have a drinks only area, or maybe look at hawkers that can get it to the stands. We’re going to allow our people to be as creative as they can within the guidelines.”
Will there be bands?
Some schools will choose to eliminate marching bands on the field. But there are still opportunities for live music.
Siegel principal Larry Creasy said while his school’s band won’t be playing in competitions, there is hope it would be able to perform at halftime of games.
Scott said Milan is planning a “college-style pep band” that will at least be at home games this year.
“Any band that I have talked to in West Tennessee, including ours, has canceled their marching season,” Scott said. “They are not going to be planning a show or have competitions on Saturdays.”
Contributing: Cecil Joyce, Michael Odom and Aaron Torres
Reach Tom Kreager at 615-259-8089 or [email protected] and on Twitter @Kreager.