Governor John Bel Edwards’ recent announcement that the state is extending Phase Two for another three weeks has the Louisiana High School Athletic Association working on plans for a potential abbreviated football season.
“It was not so surprising we are staying in Phase Two. Maybe some are surprised we are doing 21 days versus potentially 14, but at the end of the day, it’s 21 days,” Eddie Bonine, the executive director of the LHSAA, said Wednesday afternoon
Bonine, along with David Federico, president of the LHSAA executive committee and Dr. Greg Stewart, chairman of the LHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, took part in a video press conference with members of the media on Wednesday following an executive committee meeting.
While the announcement delays the start of the high school football season, Bonine chose to look for a silver lining for other fall sports.
“The good news is that of the potential 32,000 athletes who participate in fall sports, we have approximately 13,055, around 39 percent, that are basically going to get to start on time – which would be cross country and swimming – or when we get into Phase Three in 21 days, we can start the season with some sort of scrimmage and start playing interscholastic competition – which is volleyball,” said Bonine. “That’s about 13,000 participants, that with the COVID are still able to start playing.
“We have about 19,000 football players – I get that. Everybody wants to talk about football, and I get that, too. But also know as executive director, I represent all of the students in all the sports. The way I look at this, there are four out of 10 are getting to start participation – which is a heck of a lot better than what we had for our spring athletes as the virus took place in March. I do not want to have to be put in a position again to have to cancel anything.”
Although football needs to get past Phase Three to play actual games, volleyball could do so in Phase Three, Bonine said.
“Volleyball can’t get started until we get to Phase Three, that’s a static group of 50. If state goes to Phase Three in three weeks, volleyball could scrimmage and begin September 8 and 9,” the executive director said.
Monday was the first official day of fall practice for football. After three days with helmets, teams now can opt to put on pads starting Thursday.
Bonine made a point of clarification concerning the status of football.
“There is a difference in ‘contact’ and ‘collision.’ Football is a collision sport. You know you are going to put athletes in pads and if we’re still allowed 7-on-7, there probably will be some kind of contact, whether it be guarding receivers releasing from the line, or whatever it is, there will be some contact. We are trying to limit that. We will use the coaches’ discretion for that.
“We hope to get to Phase Three at the end of this month,” Bonine added. “If we get to Phase Three, we can put the entire gear on the football players – still no collisions but they can acclimate not only to shoulder pad and helmet usage but also having pads on their entire body.”
The state will remain in Phase Two through August 28. Should the state get to Phase Three and then beyond, the football season could start a few weeks later.
“Once we do that, we need 21 days,” said Bonine. “We need full-contact, controlled contact and collision to toughen the players up and soft tissue squared away so we can start football. That 21st day would be October 2 or 3 could potentially have a scrimmage or jamboree and get ready for the next week (and the start of the regular season).”
At that point, the state is looking at a regular season anywhere from a six- to eight-week schedule.
If the LHSAA decides on playing its state championships on December 11 and 12 in the Superdome as currently scheduled, that will allow for a six-week regular season.
The regular season, Bonine said, could go to seven games if the state championships were moved back a week.
Playing the state championships, the last week of December could allow for an eight-game regular season schedule.
Most scenarios call for a reduction in the size of the playoff brackets.
The eight-game regular-season model will feature a 16-team playoff bracket option or a seven-game regular season with a 32- team bracket. Both would allow for teams that don’t make the postseason a bowl game option for an extra contest.
Should the state not come out of Phase Two in three weeks, the football season could stretch into January but that opens another can of worms.
“We have a proposal we are looking at where we put the numbers together because now you are talking a huge overlap between football and winter sports of wrestling and basketball. I don’t know how many basketball players also play football, but I do know there is a large number of football players who also wrestle. Now you are cutting into that season and you are cutting that’ season’s sport to facilitate football. So right now, you are looking at a potential domino effect. We have to address that,” said Bonine.
The best chance for a football season, according to Stewart, is to have members of the public heed the recommendations of government and health officials.
“One of the important things, especially at this point, is to go back – and I don’t think we can stress it enough – is that if everybody wants fall sports, whether that’s high school, college or professional sports, if they want that to happen, they have to listen to the governor, they have to wear masks, they have do to do the physical distancing, they’ve got to hand hygiene. We’ve got to do that. If we do it, we will be fine. But everyone has to understand that what they do is going to have consequences on Friday nights in the state of Louisiana.”