By LARRY VAUGHT
As expected by many, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Board of Control voted Tuesday to delay the start of practices and games for football soccer, volleyball, field hockey and other activities due to COVID-19 concerns.
The good news for sports fans is that no high school sports seasons in Kentucky were cancelled but the Board of Control will have a special meeting Aug. 20 to re-evaluate before full-scale practices in any sport can being.
As of today, the first football games would be Sept 11 with practices starting Aug. 24. Playoffs would begin Nov. 13 instead of Nov. 6 and state championships will be held at Kroger Field in Lexington Dec. 11 and 12 instead of Dec. 4-5.
“I appreciate football coaches being part of this process and I am excited we are going to get to play football,” said Mercer County coach David Buchanan, the president of the Kentucky Football Coaches Association. “I look at it like we are moving forward and then if things are bad they (Board of Control) are going to stop us. I am not worried about Aug. 20. I am going forward.”
Garrard County coach Jerry Perry saw today’s action as more of setting a schedule about what could happen than a guarantee there would be a high school football season.
“What happened is that they extended for another three weeks what we are doing now. There were a lot of positives for playing but they didn’t really say yet we were playing. They just set a schedule,” Perry said. “We are still doing the same things. What they did do, I think, is tell us Aug. 20 is the deadline for deciding if we play or don’t play. They said we are not moving football to the spring and it will be in the fall if it is played. As a coach, I am moving on like we are playing but it becoming very tedious just doing the same things day after day.”
Still, being positive Kentucky didn’t decide not to have fall football like California, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, Virginia and the District of Columbia have done by moving football to the spring. Kentucky became one of 23 states now to have altered the fall high school sports schedules.
Soccer, volleyball, field hockey and cross country can begin limited practice on Aug. 24 with full practices on Aug. 31. Contests can begin Sept. 7.
The Board of Control also limited teams to having only 60 players in uniform on the sidelines for any competition.
There also is some confusion over how many football games a team can play. Since there will be eight dates left in the normal season and an extra week in November, that is nine weeks after teams cancel games that were set for the first three weeks. Most teams will have seven games still scheduled, a regular open date and now the first week in November. KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett mentioned all fall sports teams getting 80 percent of their normal season. For football that normally has 10 games, that would be eight.
“I thought it was eight but a lot of coaches now think it is nine football games,” Lincoln County athletics director Tim Estes said.
“I think we get eight games,” Perry said. “They voted that everybody gets 80 percent of their games. If people are griping about that, they are stupid. It’s going to be easy to schedule that eighth game because everybody needs games. I don’t think anybody will have trouble picking up a game.”
Lincoln County has already added a home game with West Jessamine. Mercer County has added a home game with Anderson County in the open slot.
But Buchanan is one of those who interpreted the ruling as teams could play nine games if that’s what they wanted to schedule.
“Some think eight, some nine. Football is going to pay for all the other sports, so if you get nine games it helps financially,” Buchanan said.
What won’t happen apparently is teams that normally host bowl games in weeks one or two rescheduling them for the first week in November. Those bowl games produce the majority of revenue some schools generate for football but trying to coordinate schedules for four teams already slated to play in a specific bowl game is not going to happen.
“It’s not ideal but we as coaches have to suck it up and make it work,” Buchanan said. “We have already taken a cut from what we normally get from our athletics department and I get it. There will probably have to be a lot of cuts because money is going to be an issue.
“The good thing is still think our home football gates will be through the roof. I think so many fans are going to want to come out and people are going to be so excited.”
What about limits on attendance?
From what I saw and heard, no discussion came up about setting attendance guidelines during the Board of Control meeting. Maybe that will simply follow what guidelines Gov. Andy Beshear sets.
Buchanan says Mercer’s stadium is set up for social distancing because many fans can drive cars into the area, tailgate, watch the game and never even talk to anyone else if they don’t want.
“Even if there are limits on capacity, a lot of regular-season games probably don’t reach 50 percent capacity,” Buchanan said. “If we stuffed every inch at Alvis Johnson field, I think we could get 10,000 fans in there. If you go 50 percent, that’s 5,000 and we don’t have that at many games. So I think it will all work out fine.”
Perry doesn’t want anyone to think he is being pessimistic about the upcoming season. Instead, he’s tried to stay realistic. But he did see something he liked watching the Board of Control meeting.
“I thought the Board was all in and wanted to go ahead with fall sports. That has changed, in my opinion, from what it was when all this started,” Perry said. “There were a lot of people wanting to give this a go and that’s the biggest positive I got out of today.”