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Florida, Georgia high school coaches react to fall sports ruling

There will be fall football in both states. But how each state came to that decision was radically different -- and has been received as such

Brian Allen smiled.

The longtime head football coach at his alma mater, Columbia County High School, knows he caught plenty of eyes from across the state of Florida with his flurry of tweets Monday night.

“Social media is not usually where I go to vent but I was really looking forward to some type of decision I could take back to my kids," Allen said of Monday night's FHSAA Board of Directors Meeting.

“I never would’ve figured it would be what it was.”

What it was: a five-hour marathon meeting that resulted in a whole lot of nothing. The only clear message from Monday's meeting: fall sports in Florida will be allowed to start July 27. But even then -- as was demonstrated by the dozens of school districts that announced they won't begin sports and/or classes until late August -- there's plenty of obstacles. And the guidance Allen and so many other coaches sought wasn't provided.

“I don’t believe in ‘we’re gonna roll with it and let’s just see what happens.’ It’s unbelievable some of the comments I heard last night," Allen said. "I was blown away by a few of them. ‘Let the parents and the districts decide,’ ‘Just go with it!’ ‘They need to play!’”

It's immensely frustrating for Allen, who, despite the FHSAA approving summer conditioning to begin June 15, has not been able to hold practices. Per the FHSAA's recommendations -- the only ones provided, up to this point -- there needs to be one adult per each group of 10 students. Allen estimates, on average, he has 130 students in attendance at summer workouts and six to eight coaches. And even though he'll have more hands-on-deck in the fall, Allen still sees challenges. 

"If I run my program the way it functions during a normal season, everyone is going to have to quarantine. We do roll call in my field house in a little, small room, and I pack all 135 of them in there. And I sit and do attendance," he explained. "So if one of us gets [coronavirus], we're out. For 14 days -- based on the recommendations that have been given."

And there in lies Allen's biggest frustration: not only has the FHSAA not provided specific, recommendations.

"We've had all this time to think about this," Allen said he wished the FHSAA had said. "So, 'here. Here's your paper on it. Here's what you should be doing. This is going to keep you good to go.'

"I missed that part in five hours. That's for sure."

It stands in stark contrast to the scene just a few dozen miles to Lake City's north. 

"The key to leadership is communication. And some states aren’t communicating well and others are. I'm very thankful here in Georgia we have a great leadership group that communicates with us on a weekly basis -- if not more," Glynn County Schools athletic director Steve Waters smiled.

The Georgia High School Association also met Monday. They, too, will allow teams to begin practicing July 27. But the first games have been pushed two weeks to September 4. They will play two scrimmages, ten games, and five playoff games. 

It wasn't a surprise to Waters -- largely because there's been constant communication with the GHSA since May. The group sends emails and guidance each Wednesday to all member schools. There's a list of about 20-30 protocols and guidelines, and that list has continued to be relaxed each week since May. 

“The main decisions and safety protocol need to come from the State Association. I do think they should leave it up to each county if they want to make more stringent rules.. like the GHSA is recommending masks. We’re requiring them here in Glynn County," Waters said.

And because of his consistent communication with the GHSA, Waters knows one of two things. One, if the schedule does have to be altered, the GHSA has the flexibility to do so. Moreover, they believe this is the only additional action that needs to be taken.

"I talked to the GHSA yesterday and I said, 'do you truly feel like we're not going to delay again?' And their response was 'this should be it,'" Waters said. Glynn County does plan to begin practices on Monday, July 27.

“If I had to put a percentage on it, I’d say we’re 97, 98 percent ready to roll and play football on Labor Day Weekend.”

Waters also noted the unintended effects that continuing to postpone fall sports can have; most notably, winter sports', like basketball and wrestling, would see their participation numbers drastically altered.

For Allen, the biggest unintended effect -- and the reason he's pushing for some sort of safe season -- is that student-athletes that otherwise would've had the chance to impress college scouts won't be able to. They need some sort of games to put on tape.

"If we don't play in the State series, it won't bother me. What I'm most concerned with is at some point having my seniors have the opportunity to get film," he said. "Once we're able to get something going, I had already had conversations with different coaches close by that if, for whatever the reason, [you can't play your scheduled game] that we can get together on a Friday and play a game."

It also won't bother Allen if the Tigers can't play in the State series if the South Florida schools can also not play due to rising coronavirus cases.

"That's a tainted state championship then. Every year, Miami Northwest, St. Thomas Aquinas, Booker T. Washington, American Heritage is winning it. If you win one this year, it's tainted. How are you gonna feel good about that if you're a competitor? Like 'oh we won the State Championship in the year South Florida wasn't participating.'"

But before there can be talk of games, Allen and his Tigers must first begin practice. They need guidelines. They haven't gotten them. 

Moreover, the FHSAA also largely ignored the recommendations made by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) that were presented to them Monday night. Many counties, including Allen and Columbia, were listening. They say they will apply it to their return. 

"That's what I was thinking already. But hearing from medical professionals say it? Let's see what happens after two or three weeks of school. I think it was 21 to 28 days. And then re-evaluate what's going on," he said. "And then decide, if the percentage is lower from where it is now, let's look at these contact sports. 

"But to just jump in it now when your percentages are crazy? I just don't understand that."

That's what's crazy. Not Allen's Twitter tirade. 

“I came into this looking for guidance at the conclusion of this thing. From the opinions on my end, from what I said after the meeting, a lot of people said, ‘you said exactly what I wanted to say and what I’ve been thinking!’”

... That after four months, the state of Florida still doesn’t have a plan.