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AHSAA should reconsider decision

The Alabama High School Athletic Association and Alabama Independent School Association announced this week that fall sports are returning on a regular schedule, with no delays.

On Thursday, AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese announced best practices, which have been put in place to keep students safe. We wrote about them extensively in Friday’s newspaper, so for the lack of redundancy, we won’t name them all here.

But for football, best practices include extending the players box to the 10-yard line rather than the 25-yard-line, allowing more space for players to social distance. Timeouts have been extended to two minutes so that water bottles can be wiped down and only one captain from each team will take place in the coin toss.

We have no doubt that the plan was well-thought out, and we know the AHSAA has medical experts and people who have spent their life’s work in sports making these tough decisions.

However, we can’t get over the feeling that the AHSAA (and AISA) appears to be that one person in a room of 50 people who believes they have the right answer while no one else does.

Georgia has moved its football season back two weeks. Florida reversed course Thursday and moved its season back four weeks. Louisiana is nowhere near football yet, as it needs to get from phase 2 to phase 4 of its statewide plan to consider high school sports. Mississippi has moved its season back. Some states have moved high school football season completely out of the fall.

Even the college football season is seemingly in jeopardy. Some Division I conferences have already made major decisions, including the Pac 12 and Big 10 saying they will move to a conference-only model in 2020. Even those plans aren’t set in stone, as the season is seemingly teetering on additional changes.

On top of all of that, we are telling people in society to socially distance, keep their hands to themselves, wear a mask, etc. That’s what we’re going to tell students in the classroom as well, and many Alabama students, including here in Chambers County, are doing online learning.

That doesn’t work on a football field (or in most athletics). Football is a contact sport. Offensive and defensive linemen will be breathing and sweating on one another for an entire game. It’s impossible to tackle someone while social distancing.

It feels weird to tell our students that they can’t get within six feet of one another anywhere but the athletic field.

Other states have seemingly decided to see how the return to school starts before putting kids on a football field together. (In some states, other fall sports like volleyball will continue as scheduled, but it varies from state to state). We think putting kids in a classroom before an athletic arena makes sense, but it won’t necessarily happen in Chambers County.

The first day of school for the Chambers County School System is Aug. 12. For the Lanett School System, the first day has been pushed back to Aug. 24. That means, barring a schedule change, the Lanett Panthers will travel to Georgiana and play their first football game before students are even back in the classroom.

To be clear, we’re confident our local superintendents, school boards, teachers and support staff are working hard to ensure that day goes smoothly, but to be honest, there are still question marks as to what that’s going to look like. No one knows exactly how it’s going to go, even with the best plans.

We’ve always joked that football is right up there with faith and family in Alabama. It’s a part-of-life here that other states just can’t understand.

Everyone in this office is a huge football fan and can’t wait for a normal season to start. But that fandom aside, we have to ask if we’re really doing the right thing for students by having a season that begins Aug. 20.

It’s fair to wonder whether the COVID-19 situation will be any different in September, or even further down the road, and we get that. But it’s also important to remember that at the moment, Alabama continues to set new records for virus cases seemingly every day.

We understand that most people in their teens are going to recovery quickly from the virus, feel fine and recover without any major issues. But that’s not the point. It’s everyone else students might come into contact with — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. — that could get deathly sick.

We agree with officials who say that students need a return to normalcy as fast as possible, and sports are obviously a huge part of that. We all need sports, but the timing is very important.

Schools can make their decisions on canceling or postponing games, but most are going to follow whatever the state guidelines are.

We feel like the AHSAA should reconsider postponing the season a few weeks, just to see how the start of school goes statewide before putting students on an athletic field together.

Doing so would realign Alabama and Georgia high school football schedules, which affects several teams in our coverage area. It would also give administrators a chance to deal with any local issues that arise before students start hitting the field against opposing teams.