It’s the fourth quarter.
We’re down a few scores, sure, but there’s a little magic left in us to come out on top.
Our coaches are giving us instruction. Maybe if we listen to ‘em we’ll dig ourselves out of this hole. Literal football coaches are giving us instruction of how to make this comeback. “Wear a mask,” many have said.
Of the many coaches who have given us such advice, I thought Jena head coach Jay Roark put it best.
“We’re at a point now where we’re not given any choices,” Roark said. “We’re probably going to start late if we’re lucky at all to start in the fall. Whether you believe masks work or don’t work, it’s our only chance right now. It may be a small chance right now. If they work, hey we’re in great shape. If they don’t, then what do we have to lose? Whatever we have to do to play, I’m going to do.”
Roark and I are a lot alike in this aspect. We each had an epiphany involving time.
Before I had mine, I’ll admit I’ve been to Wal-Mart and other stores without wearing a mask. Not because I believe COVID-19 is a hoax, but I’ll be frank — I’m in good health and I workout daily. The stories I had heard did not scare me enough to wear into wearing a mask. I feel like a lot of you are in that same boat today.
But something changed for both Roark and myself. And it changed around the same time too.
As we got deep into June and the numbers continued to peak, it dawned on me — we’re running out of time, and if this doesn’t change we won’t have any football to play in the fall.
For Roark, and a lot of coaches, that realization materialized when LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine said teams couldn’t put pads on until Phase 4. Seeing this state is going to be staying in Phase 2 for a while longer, simple math tells you the season’s original timeline must shift.
My shift occurred around that same time, as I thought about the love of the game, among other things. I’ll continue to be honest here — I also thought about my job. If there is no football, then what? I’m a firm believer that kids need sports. Sports build character, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say my industry needs sports, as well.
Meanwhile, Roark thought about his seniors.
“These kids that that have been invested since their sixth grade year, and it’s about to be over with,” Roark said.
So what’s the reality of the situation? The season will inevitably be delayed due to hospitalization concerns and a high number of cases. If we’re in Phase 2 for another three weeks, and we’re able to move to Phase 3 by Aug. 14, we can still salvage a season.
If we continue to be diligent and can move out of Phase 3 by Sept. 4, teams can begin practicing with pads.
West Ouachita head coach Matt Middleton told me he could get his team prepared in three weeks time. Ouachita Christian head coach Steven Fitzhugh even told me that he could have his guys ready for a jamboree in two weeks.
I believe those are both optimistic point of views, and the LHSAA would rather be more cautious, so let’s set it at four weeks of practice time in pads. In that scenario, that would put us at Oct. 2 for the first game of the season.
Obviously, there would be changes made to the season, and as one former coach told me last week, you could even put the postseason on the backburner. The more important thing is giving players, cheerleaders and band members alike a Friday night light experience. That’s the goal.
If you’re able to play in October, you could come up with a system with the playoffs, and Fitzhugh even suggested cutting the playoff teams to 16, and allowing those who didn’t make the playoffs to have “bowl games” to extend their season. I’ve heard worse ideas.
But what if we don’t take the advice of our coaches and continue to downplay masks in an effort to make a political statement? If we can’t get the numbers down and can’t move beyond Phase 3 or — Lord helps us — Phase 2, what then?
Well, the idea of flipping spring and fall seasons has been gaining traction. One reason why is Bonine seems to be warming up to the idea. He previously made a strong stance against that move in late June. He told several media outlets that flip “won’t happen.” Well, two weeks into July, he’s cracked the door open a bit by stating that wasn’t the LHSAA’s “first option.”
Every baseball and softball coach I’ve talked to has been completely against the idea. One of the big reasons why is they were the ones who just suffered from having their seasons canceled.
If they switch to the fall and have their season canceled again, while football gets the green light in the spring, well, that’s not going to sit well with anyone on the diamond. Makes sense.
That’s why Fitzhugh suggested a switch with a caveat.
“I think a logical solution would be to flip in the sense that these kids have been playing baseball all summer long in Phase 2,” Fitzhugh said. “Phase 3 would allow baseball to be played. I know the concern there. What if they were to be shut down again? Let’s pick up with a few more weeks and a playoff in the spring (in that case).
If there are no high school sports this fall, kids all over the United States will be playing baseball. They won’t be playing for their high school team, but they will be playing travel ball.”
The truth of the matter is there are so many ideas and plans floating about, but the LHSAA seems keen on hanging tight and allowing the pandemic to play out.
The association is ultimately putting the ball in our court. If we do our part and play team ball, I’m still willing to bet we have football this fall.
But the numbers have to change.
The people making these important decisions have to feel comfortable enough to allow large crowds to gather for Friday Night Lights. Let’s make that decision easier for them. Let’s make a fourth quarter comeback for the ages.