‘Flip the schedule. Buy time’

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

For the past seven weeks, the AJC has provided an At Issue platform in which 35 coaches, administrators and area sports figures discussed important issues affecting Georgia's high school sports. | More: At Issue topics

But in the final analysis, and this final installment, there is only one issue that matters: Will high school football and the other sports resume in August? Should high school football and the other sports resume in August? And what will high school football and other sports look like if they return in August?

To get to this answer, five people who have played, covered or directed coverage of GHSA sports for a combined 200-or-so years provide their opinions. The list includes former AJC writer I.J. Rosenberg, who founded Score Atlanta in 2004, and Seth Ellerbee, a Score Atlanta writer who authored the At Issue project and covers Class AAA for ajc.com; former AJC staffers Todd Holcomb and Chip Saye, who co-founded Georgia High School Football Daily in 2009. Both companies partner with the AJC under contract status.

And there’s Tim Ellerbee, who retired from the AJC in 2014, but continues to direct the AJC’s high school coverage under contract status.

As you might expect, the opinions vary.

The skinny: Tim Ellerbee's name first showed up on a high school sports roster at GHSA headquarters in 1968, and he has covered or directed coverage of Georgia high school sports for a large part of his 46-year career. Ellerbee, who retired from the AJC in 2014, continues to lead the AJC's high school coverage team under contract status.

Tim Ellerbee: "I think any discussion of high school football resuming in the August has to begin with these assumptions: 1) that Gov. Brian Kemp and his health experts decide it's time for kids to return to the classrooms; 2) that the GHSA, at the behest of its 450-member schools, decides it's time for the kids to resume sports; 3) that school boards across the state decide it's time for the kids to resume sports. 4) that parents across the state decide they will allow their kids to play sports.

“Then and only then can you begin dealing with central questions about how to begin the football season in August. What happens if 11 school districts in hard-hit Southwest Georgia and nine more across the state decide their schools will not play? How do you handle region play when three or four teams drop from the schedules in pockets across the state?

“And finally, how do you keep high school sports’ cash cow — football — from turning into a could-end season of uncertainty?

“I would suggest this: Flip the high school schedule and buy pandemic time. Traditional non-contact spring sports move to the fall. Traditional fall contact sports move to January.

“Move as many non-contact sports as possible to August starts — softball, volleyball and cross country as scheduled, then start baseball, golf, tennis, soccer and track as soon as you can get those sports up and running. Require players to self-distance and play in masks. No hugging after every kill, no bench huddles, and if you have a close-contact play in the infield, make the play and hustle away.

“Football could begin Dec. 27 with the Corky Kell Classic, then follow with a full schedule on Friday, Jan. 8. The state finals could be played April 2-3. Basketball could begin the first week of February and end with state finals the second or third week of May. Wrestling could be slotted at any point during the second half of the school year, and lacrosse, rifle, esports, bass fishing, gymnastics and swimming could be slotted where they best fit.

“I’m sure we can find any number of reasons why this would not be possible, including disruptions for multi-sport athletes, coaching staffs, recruiting cycles and facility management. But overcoming those obstacles and playing certainly beats the alternative: sitting at home and not playing at all.

“Will there be concerns about securing state championship venues? Yes. But we can go back to spoiling the kids the next school year. If big-time facilities can't be secured, play anywhere for one school year. Just play.

“My biggest fear is that the GHSA can do the greatest job possible to install safety precautions for an August football start-up, but what happens 10 days after the Kell Classic when the sport has its Rudy Gobert-NBA moment? What will you do on Aug. 28, when 12 kids who played against each other across the state get sick and test positive for the coronavirus?

“You’ll have to pull the plug, right? Yes. And by late August, football’s done.

“Each day’s developing news points to hot spots in Georgia and confirms that this virus isn't going anywhere. So let's wait a while before trying to stare it down.

“We don’t need to be like the kids in the TV commercial, who when faced with danger, run to the shed full of chainsaws. Jump in the car. Create distance.

“Flip the schedule and buy time.”

AT ISSUE: Should they play?

• In 'October, if we're lucky'
• 'Test efficiently and play ball'
• 'Flip the schedule. Buy time'
• 'Hopeful, but not optimistic'
• 'Sports, as we know it, are over'
» MORE: Previous topics