By JESSE SMITHEY
While basketball and spring sports seasons in the NCAA have long since been terminated by the Coronavirus pandemic, the TSSAA Board of Control wasn’t ready Tuesday to wipe the high school state basketball tournaments or Spring Fling spring championships from the calendar.
The board voted unanimously to adhere to TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress’ suggestion: continue to follow the CDC guidelines and continue to converse with Middle Tennessee State and Rutherford County on trying to find a safe and accommodating time to allow these events to take place.
“We’re not giving up on our basketball tournament, and we’re not giving up on Spring Fling,” said Childress during the Board’s conference call meeting Tuesday afternoon. “We’re going to do everything we can (to make them happen).
“But there may come a point when we have to say, ‘We can’t get it done.’ I just want all our student-athletes to know that we’ve done the best that we could.”
The TSSAA tried its mightiest to allow for the completion of the Division I girls’ basketball state championship last week at MTSU’s Murphy Center. Play went on as scheduled during the Wednesday and Thursday quarterfinal rounds. As sports around the country began to call off their plans, the TSSAA followed suit. Initially, the plan was to have limited attendance during the Friday semifinals and audible from that plan if needed.
The semifinals never tipped off. The tournament was postponed.
TSSAA only suspended play, however. Not cancelled.
Childress mentioned to the board that the TSSAA office has been “flooded” with emails from student-athletes, parents and others imploring for them to not cancel the basketball season and spring sports seasons.
“We need to look, in our opinion, to see where we are — not just in Tennessee but the United States — as far as the virus is concerned,” Childress said. “And, we could plan. But as things are changing every day, we may be creating a pipe dream. But it, at least, lets those student-athletes know we didn’t give up. We tried everything we could.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) very much influenced the TSSAA decision last week, Childress admitted, and continues to serve as the TSSAA’s sherpa through this unchartered journey — especially as the TSSAA tries to search for a time to hold the state championship basketball tournaments and Spring Fling.
The ever-changing nature of the Coronavirus pandemic has made pinning down a definite date to be quite the challenge.
The current recommendation from the CDC is for there not to be any public functions of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks so to slow the spreading of the the Coronavirus.
If that time window doesn’t expand, Childress mentioned the state basketball tournaments being held in mid-May — given that it doesn’t conflict with any possible graduation plans from MTSU.
The state basketball tournaments would be played jointly in one week, the girls semifinals and finals being played Monday and Tuesday and the boys’ quarterfinals commencing on Wednesday and Thursday.
“We haven’t gotten an answer back from MTSU yet. But we know that in the middle of May, they (typically) have graduations going on,” said Childress. “They said they’re willing to work with us.”
The motion to let the TSSAA continue to work on finding a way to let the basketball tournaments happen passed unanimously from all board members.
So did the motion for the spring sports, which was to continue to let local school boards, school administrators and the like to determine the regular season fates of their respective high school teams. The TSSAA does not have much jurisdiction in regular-season play, in terms of dictating when teams can play and can’t. It sets a season start date and asks that spring sports teams not surpass a specific number of games for their season.
The board unanimously passed the motion to keep that as is, allowing for teams that choose not to play any regular season games during the Coronavirus pandemic to still be allowed into the playoffs — without penalty — if the postseason does transpire.
That motion also implied that TSSAA continue to work with MTSU, Rutherford County and the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce on finding a solution for hosting the spring sports championships.
One of the proposed recommendations from Childress was to push Spring Fling back two weeks. It’s currently slated for May 19-22 in Murfreesboro. But bumping it back into early June could create conflicts with local hotel accommodations. Bonnaroo, a music festival that attract thousands from around the country to nearby Manchester, Tenn., is scheduled for June 11-14.
The chamber let Childress know that hotels in Murfreesboro begin filling up for that festival as early as the week before.
“With Spring Fling, there are so many hotel rooms we need. They (the chamber) felt like everything would be fine the last week of May,” said Childress. “But if we go into June, that would create a problem.”
So the last week of May looks like the most viable option for Spring Fling at this point.
But all of that with the Spring Fling is contingent on whether or not the basketball tournaments could even be completed first in Murfreesboro.
“As a coach, we’re always happy that there’s a chance,” said Maryville boys’ basketball coach Mark Eldridge, whose team qualified for the Class AAA state tournament. “You don’t want to put anyone in a bad situation.
“But for what we could do, at least the games are still on — hopefully. At least they didn’t shut us down.”
If the basketball tournament does happen, Childress mentioned giving the teams participating a couple weeks to prepare with getting physically reconditioned and back into game-preparation mode.
That two-week span is feasible, added Eldridge.
“Before you play your first game of the regular season, you have two weeks of preparation. That’s all you have,” said Eldridge.
“It’s almost like starting over. The big scenario is: you’d have spring sports going on. How would you share players? We do a great job at Maryville of doing that. But some kids are already thinking about other sports or going to college, if they’re seniors. It’s not the ideal time to do it (in mid-May), but it’s better than nothing. It’s about getting the kids down there on that stage to enjoy the last few days of their high school careers.
“Win or lose, you’re getting on the Murphy Center’s floor and finding out — I’d rather lose than not know. I’d rather go down there. If it’s a loss, it’s a loss. But you got to participate on the biggest stage for basketball.”