The Mt. Juliet boys and Lebanon girls, along with 34 other teams in Division I’s three classifications, may yet have a chance to continue the state basketball tournament.
High school’s version of March Madness may be held in May and Spring Fling, the coordinated event which includes spring sports champions, in June if the situation improves with the coronavirus outbreak.
The TSSAA Board of Control voted unanimously by conference call March 17 afternoon to follow executive director Bernard Childress’ recommendation to keep the state basketball tournaments on suspension and not cancel the popular events at this time.
“It could be a pipe dream because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Childress told the board.
“Hope everything works out,” Mt. Juliet coach Troy Allen said. “At least there is some hope.
“I’ve only talked to a few (of the players) and left a text message to the others. I think they’re real excited that there’s still hope and that the season’s not over.”
“It gives us hope,” Lebanon coach Cory Barrett echoed. “Anytime, they could have shut it down… Each team wants closure if it’s possible.
“We talked and they’re excited about still having hope to play. The longer it’s gone on there’s more understanding and they’re able to cope. Kids cope better than adults do sometimes.”
Also passed by the Board was the TSSAA’s longstanding policy of letting local school administrators, coaches and boards determine regular-season competition. Teams do not have to play a regular season in a spring sport to be allowed to play in postseason. A decision on the Spring Fling, currently scheduled for May 19-22, will be made later.
The girls’ basketball tournament was suspended March 12 following the quarterfinal rounds, leaving 12 teams (four in each of the three classifications, including Lebanon in AAA) waiting to see if they would have an opportunity to finish their seasons on the floor.
The boys’ tournament, scheduled for last week, was also suspended, leaving 24 teams (including Mt. Juliet) in a holding pattern.
Childress told the board he had been flooded with emails from, not just adults, but students, asking that the basketball tournaments be saved even though all college seasons at all levels have now been canceled for the remainder of the school year and pro leagues and events suspended or delayed, a sentiment echoed by some of the other board members.
“Everybody wants to get them in if possible,” said board member Jody Wright, principal of Fulton High in Knoxville. “Leave no stone unturned in trying to get this tournament in if possible.”
“The coaches I’ve talked to have said give us a chance to finish, even if it’s in May,” said White County principal and board member Grant Swallows.
“Trying to work it out in the best way we could possibly do,” said Loretto’s Bryan True.
“In trying times, when we have things happen in this country and the world, sports is one way to keep people together,” Barrett said. “It’s the first time in my lifetime I can remember sports being left out. In times of distress, sports usually bring people together, and right now we don’t have that.”
Childress said, based on the Center of Disease Control’s recommendation of having no gatherings of more than 10 people for eight weeks, May 11 would be the earliest the tournament could resume. He said Middle Tennessee State University, home to the tournaments, have been very cooperative regarding Murphy Center, even though the school itself is closed and all campus events canceled.
He said the two tournaments could be held in one week, with the girls’ semifinals on Monday and finals Tuesday before the boys’ tip off Wednesday, which would put them on schedule as far as the week goes. Lebanon’s girls would face Arlington in the semifinals. Mt. Juliet’s boys would take on Blackman on Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
“We have a chance to go at it one more time,” Allen said. “I think we always want to see who the winner is and who the loser is. That’s why we do it.”
Childress was asked by a board member if the tournaments could be played sooner if conditions improved.
“If (CDC) came back and change (the eight weeks), we’ll get on that immediately, even it it’s April,” Childress said.
The other factor is Gov. Bill Lee urging every school district in Tennessee to close by Friday of this week, if not sooner, and remain closed through at least March 31. TSSAA, in a release issued following the meeting, said it had checked with the governor’s office and confirmed the statement applies to all school-related activities, including athletics.
Childress said the teams would be given several days to practice before the tournaments resume, if they do.
“They don’t need to worry about that right now,” he said. “No practice, no conditioning, no weight lifting.”
That applies to spring sports as well. Whether those seasons will culminate in the Spring Fling remains to be seen. Childress said hotel/motel room availability will be as big, if not bigger, than re-securing the facilities, most of which are at MTSU, the Adams Tennis Complex, Richard Siegel Soccer Complex, Murfreesboro Sports Complex (Starplex and McKnight softball fields) or area high schools (including Wilson Central’s baseball field). He said he was told by officials in Rutherford County there would be plenty of lodging space through the first week of June (two weeks after Spring Fling is currently scheduled).
But the annual Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, scheduled this year for June 11-14 before it was rescheduled for September later last week, fills the motel rooms in Murfreesboro. No action was taken concerning Spring Fling.
“We want to be flexible and see what happens,” Swallows said. “If we can extend it, we’ll try to extend it.”
Back to basketball, Childress said rosters would be frozen to the players the association has. No transfers would be allowed. Also, the independent game rule prohibiting players from playing in leagues such as AAU during the high school season will be waived.
“I can’t believe AAU and church basketball is going on right now,” Childress said. “We’ll have to waive that for right now. We may get to the point where we have to say the season’s over.
“We’ll have to waive the independent rule right now. That’s only fair to these kids.”
But even if the rosters are the same, Allen warned the level of play the teams displayed during the tournaments to reach state may not be there after an extended layoff.
“Eight weeks off in basketball, you’re not going to see the same teams you were seeing just now,” Allen said. “We were playing pretty good. It’ll be like starting over.”
“I think everybody will try to grab the momentum they had last week,” Barrett said. “Everybody was playing pretty good.
“The ones who can get back…will have a really good chance the last couple of games.”
“At least we have a chance,” Allen said.