High school football: All systems go for start of season in October

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It looks like the high school football season is no longer in limbo.

During a House Committee on Education meeting Friday, Executive Director Eddie Bonine said the LHSAA is prepared to move forward with the season beginning Oct. 8 regardless of what phase of the COVID-19 pandemic the state is in.

Bonine said he will make that recommendation to the LHSAA executive committee when it meets Wednesday.

The executive committee is expected to vote to approve the plan.

“We’re excited,” Haughton head coach Jason Brotherton said. “I had kind of been told that off the record about a week ago, but to actually see it out there in public gets you excited.

“Now it’s like it would be almost hard to take it back. We’re pumped up. Our kids are going to be excited. You’ve been trying to sell your kids all this time on getting ready for a season that you don’t really know is going to happen. So now to actually know I’d say we need to sit down and figure how to crank everything up, ramp up what we’re doing and start getting ready to play an actual game.”

The state is currently in Phase II of the reopening until at least Sept. 11. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to announce next week if the state will move to Phase III.

In July, Bonine told the House Committee that the football season would not begin until the state went beyond Phase III.

There were concerns about schools’ liability if players and/or others contracted COVID-19 at games if the LHSAA decided to proceed with the season on its own.

Act 9 under House Bill 59 passed by the state legislature in July protects all schools hosting events from civil lawsuits if students, teachers/coaches and others contract the disease provided all minimum safety standards have been implemented.

Starting the season unilaterally could have been viewed as a violation of the act, making the schools subject to lawsuits.

But state Attorney General Jeff Landry released an opinion to the House Committee stating schools will face no COVID-19 liability if they play football.

Bonine told the committee it’s up to the LHSAA whether to proceed with the season and that it does not need approval from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education or any other group.

“If everything goes as planned, I would anticipate we could put football players in full gear and start contact, because those young men have been in helmets and shoulder pads for six weeks,” he told the committee. “They’re ready to put on the lower gear and get after it.”

“It’s been a long time coming, but patience has paid off and I do not see any delay in why we would not start football on the scheduled date of Oct. 8, 9, 10.”

The move toward having a football season has gained momentum recently. Landry wrote a letter to Bonine urging no more delays to the season earlier this week. 

House Dist. 74 Rep. Larry Frieman wrote a similar letter to Bonine a few days before that.

On social media it was easy to find the hashtag #letthemplay after posts from players, parents and coaches.

Also, states that surround Louisiana have either begun are about to begin their seasons.

On Friday, Bonine also told reporters that scrimmages and jamborees may now be allowed. Earlier guidelines sent by the LHSAA to schools stated they wouldn’t be.

Also, Bonine told the committee that there will be 50 percent capacity for fans where possible based on the makeup of the facility. That also included volleyball.

Brotherton said it will likely be an eight-game regular season with 16 teams making the playoffs, down from the usual 32. There is also the possibility of a seven-game season with 32 teams making the playoffs.

As far as schedules go, the first two games in teams’ original 10-game schedule will be canceled.

Haughton and the rest of the teams in the state have been practicing under Phase II restrictions, which include no contact, since Aug. 10.

Bonine said Friday contact could begin next week. Teams have also had to be divided into static groups of no more than 25 players.

Brotherton said it’s important that teams be able to have normal practices soon.