When Louisiana High School Athletic Association Executive Director Eddie Bonine told the House Education Committee that prep football games would not take place until Phase Four, it came as a revelation to some.
In fact, it shouldn’t have.
Bonine and the LHSAA had stated for quite some time the state would have to get past Phase Three before a contact sport such as football could play games due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Any confusion, perhaps, may have come from members of the public not realizing the LHSAA had a defined Phase Four plan all along.
“I think it comes from the world we live in today where people just read headlines,” said Dwain Jenkins, Lutcher High’s athletic director and head football coach. “These things have been out since May saying that Phase Three consisted of small groups of less than 50, defined groups, no contact. Basically, 7-on-7 was the extent of football that could be played in Phase Three. There was still going to be a large leap once Phase Three was one before you would see what would be competitive football.
“I think many people, because the government’s only put out three phases – I’m sure Eddie could have said, ‘back to normal,’ whatever that means,” continued Jenkins, who also is the president of the Louisiana Football Coach Association. “I don’t know if that means anything different. I think ‘Phase Four’ is just an easy way to refer to it. We know we will probably have to be back in school every day. There are a lot of things that have to get cleared.
“If you read the guidelines for Phase Three that came out in May from the Department of Education, the National High School Federation and the LHSAA when they suspended the start of summer rules, all of that has been very consistent.”
Bonine’s comment, therefore, was more a reiteration rather than an revelation.
“In some ways, I guess I’m disappointed that it took a chart being put together and being put on social media for people to understand what’s been written for six weeks,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins was referring to a charter displayed to the committee by Bonine that showed the various activities allowed for fall sports in the four phases. Items in red meant no participation allowed. Items in green allow for activity in the various sports.
Each phase had categories such as practice, intra-squad scrimmage, inter-school scrimmage, and game play for the sports of cross country, basketball, football, soccer, swimming, volleyball, and wrestling.
In Phase One, all categories were marked red and not allowed. In Phase Two, no activities were allowed for basketball, football, soccer and wresting. The other sports were allowed limited activities.
Phase Three allows all activities in cross country, swimming, and volleyball, while other sports remained limited.
In Phase Four, all normal activities for all sports are allowed – which is when football contact is allowed.
The state currently is in Phase Two. Gov. John Bel Edwards extended the state’s Phase Two status a second time, with his declaration expiring July 24.
The governor is expected to make a new declaration next week. With significant spikes in both coronavirus positive tests and hospitalizations throughout the state, a move by the governor to allow Louisiana to move to Phase Three is highly in doubt.
If the governor extends Phase Two once again, and assuming a three-week timetable that has been used by the governor with past declarations, that will stretch Phase Two to approximately August 14.
If Phase Three follows three weeks after that and Phase Four is implemented contact for football could begin September 3. That would be for the start of contact, so actually regular-season games would likely follow a few weeks later. Any further delays of the various phases could push football’s date into October.
“From listening to your sports advisory committee, your doctors, and other levels of football, whether it’s college or professional,” said Jenkins, “You are seeing talk about a six-week process and three weeks in contact,” said Jenkins.
“I think, realistically, the same type of set up that we normally have – when you think of a normal fall once you are able to put pads on – you have your acclimation period and then you go to full pads and you get a week of practice and then you have a scrimmage and week of practice and then you have a jamboree and then you have a week of practice into your first week of the season.”
That formula, Jenkins said, has worked well through the normal course of a football season.
“I think that would be the model,” he said. “It’s what works. It’s what the medical profession says you need to do to get your body ready. I think you are looking at three-week ‘preseason,’ if you want to call it that or ‘fall camp.’”
That time would allow players to get acclimated to weather conditions and wearing pads, according to Robert Valdez, athletic director and head football coach at St. James, the defending Class 3A state champions.
“If you don’t have a scrimmage and jamboree, you need have about two weeks of padded practices just to get acclimated to the soreness that comes with the extra weight that comes with wearing equipment. I think a three-week window should suffice to be able to get teams prepared and conditioned to be able to play a competitive game,” said Valdez.
For there to be football in the fall, Valdez said, members of public have to do their part in dealing with COVID-19.
“If I could tell everybody in the state of Louisiana and countrywide, if you love athletics, if you love watching kids compete, do your part. I think this stuff is starting to get politized. It doesn’t matter what political agenda you have or believe in, do it for the best interests of our kids. Our kids can’t vote. Our kids, they are not Democrats or Republicans or this or that. At least put your personal convictions aside and be selfless and do it for the kids – wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid large crowds, sanitize often, and give us a chance,” he said.