‘October, if we’re lucky’

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

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: Todd Holcomb, a Georgia native, has covered high school sports for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the past 20 years as a staff writer and contractor. He has coordinated the AJC's all-state football teams and state rankings for the past 15 years. In 2009, Holcomb and Chip Saye created Georgia High School Football Daily, an e-newsletter that has more than 22,000 subscribers. Holcomb has been a principal researcher for the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, which he co-founded in 2004.

Holcomb: "If you ask me, high school football games won't start in August. A full season won't be played. Some Georgia high schools won't have students in class this fall. Players will test positive for COVID-19, sending teammates into quarantine for two weeks. If opening night comes in October, players, coaches and fans should count it a victory.

“But the Georgia High School Association’s job isn’t to make predictions. The GHSA exists to serve and support its 450 member schools, not rule them. ‘You want to play football? Here’s how you do it without violating CDC and government restrictions.’

“Don’t give up on the scheduled Aug. 21 opening Friday night. It’s possible. Confer with the CDC and the GHSA’s sports medicine advisory committee and set social-distancing, testing, sanitizing and other guidelines.

“The more realistic plan is October. Trim playoff teams to two per region. Play a seven-game regular season with 16-team playoff brackets culminating Dec. 12. Moving the season into winter or spring won’t work. There are too many multi-sport coaches and athletes, not enough fields.

“The path toward August football is full of landmines.

“The GHSA can’t allow camps in June and July until an overwhelming majority of schools have committed to having students in class this fall. Even the July 27 official start to practice is optimistic, given no vaccine, no sustained regression in the curve, limited testing and considerable apprehension among superintendents and infectious disease experts.

“The most explosive landmine will be the student-athlete who becomes infected with COVID-19. CDC guidelines recommend a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into contact with an infected person. One infection can shut down a team, even a season. Once down, it’s hard to get up.

“Go slowly, and be realistic. An Oct. 2 kickoff sounds good right now.”

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