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Punt or play?

Fate for 2020 football in Lincoln Parish still unclear
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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Fans cheer during a Ruston High School football playoff win over East Acension last November. When the Bearcats’ next football season will be played, or if fans will be allowed to attend, remains unclear due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

To play or not to play? That is the question.

Apparently the answer remains as confusing as some of William Shakespeare’s writings.

A big question many people in north Louisiana have concerns whether or not football games will be played on either the high school or collegiate level this fall.

On the prep level, Louisiana High School Athletics Association executive director Eddie Bonine on Monday told the House Education Committee that the LHSAA has never said it would cancel its sports seasons, while also saying that contact football practices and games cannot begin until the LHSAA goes past Phase 3 and on to Phase 4 of its reopening. He also said flipping fall and spring seasons has been discussed but is not the LHSAA’s first option in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Louisiana remains in Phase 2 of its reopening by order of Gov. John Bel Edwards until at least July 24.

The LHSAA has a set of four phases different from the state and federal governments, which only have three phases.

Once Louisiana enters Phase 3 for reopening, the LHSAA will allow 7-on-7 limited inter-school contact drills for football teams with players not wearing helmet and shoulder pads.

The LHSAA’s Phase 4 allows for full contact with players using helmet and shoulder pads, as well as scrimmages against other teams.

Schools are in summer rules now that are not governed by the LHSAA and are scheduled to move to fall practice rules for all fall sports on Aug. 10, all dependent on the phase of reopening the state of Louisiana will be in at that time.

Bonine, who joined Louisiana’s new Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley and Sandy Holloway, the president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, also addressed the House committee Monday concerning plans for the reopening of schools.

As to whether or not fans will be allowed for football games and fall sports, Bonine said those decisions would be made in cooperation with individual school districts.

Bonine had previously said the start of a prep football season could be delayed. If numbers start declining in the wake of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plea on Saturday mandating face masks be worn in public, the current projected timeline would likely push the start of the season back to mid-September.

Cedar Creek and Lincoln Preparatory School’s football teams are currently going through conditioning workouts. The Ruston High School Bearcats began conditioning work on June 8, but suspended football workouts for two weeks on June 29 after a player tested positive after presenting COVID-19 symptoms.

On Tuesday, RHS principal Dan Gressett said the Bearcats have extended the suspension of conditioning workouts until next week at the earliest.

“There are still so many unknowns with all of this, as far as athletics and for school in general,” Gressett said. “I know everyone wants answers, but right now those are hard to find because there are still so many unknowns. Our first priority is the safety of our students, and we’re hoping things will eventually fall into place starting with that.”

On the collegiate level, Louisiana Tech resumed football workouts on Monday after suspending voluntary workouts on July 5 after a second football player tested positive for COVID-19 within the last month. Two additional players went under self-quarantine last week for 14 days after Tech performed contact tracing and determined they could have been exposed to the virus.

At least 11 FBS college football programs across the country, including Tech, fellow Conference USA member Texas-El Paso, Ohio State, Boise State, Houston, Kansas, Kansas State and Maryland have had to halt voluntary workouts, as they each had multiple players test positive for the virus.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences have already announced they will play conference-only games this season. The SEC, Conference USA and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) are among leagues that have not announced how they’ll handle their football seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grambling State University, which plays in the SWAC, has not held conditioning workouts, with head coach Broderick Fobbs saying two weeks ago that, “If we care about these student athletes as people, workouts need to stop. Too many players are receiving positive tests. Remember this is someone’s child.”