As football coaches across Central Texas began to digest the UIL’s plan for starting athletics in response to the coronavirus pandemic, LBJ coach Jahmal Fenner scrolled through a wave of texts and calls Tuesday morning.
The UIL’s announcement of a regularly scheduled start for Class 4A and smaller schools and a delayed start for larger schools triggered a mad scramble among coaches to revise their slates of games. For Fenner’s Class 4A team, the challenge proved particularly severe since the Jaguars can’t begin play until Oct. 1 because of a Travis County ordinance that prohibits organized workouts until the first week of September.
“It was like realignment day,” said Fenner, referring to the hunt for games that accompanies the UIL’s biennial reshuffling of schools. “My phone was going off all morning.”
Fenner wasn’t alone in hustling for a game. Coaches in classes 5A and 6A focused on the district-certification date of Dec. 5, which marks the final day that a school can complete district play and determine playoff participation. In Class 4A and below, most area coaches will be able to compete in their previously scheduled games, but a handful will have to adapt to local ordinances prohibiting workouts until September or rework schedules that originally included schools in larger classifications.
“The best-case scenario for us is that we get nine games,” said Vandegrift head coach Drew Sanders, whose team competes in District 25-6A. “Worst case? We get eight games. But I’m just glad we get football. I celebrated when I heard the news. These seniors, they deserve a chance to see whether we can pull this season off.”
District 25-6A includes five teams from the Round Rock school district, two schools in the Leander school district and Hutto. Both the Round Rock and Leander school districts include teams subject to coronavirus-related ordinances in Austin and Travis County that prohibit workouts until September. Dwayne Weirich, the athletic director for the Round Rock school district, confirmed on Wednesday that all the teams in his district will begin the season the weekend of Oct. 1 in order to ensure equal footing for each program.
Leander has not yet made that announcement, but it’s expected later this week after a 25-6A District Executive Committee meeting.
Because there are only 10 weeks between Oct. 1 and the deadline for district certification, football programs in 25-6A will have at least one bye week and possibly two in order to offer some flexibility when it comes to scheduling the seven district games.
That means just one or two nondistrict games for teams, which will likely mean that the season-opening battle for Leander school district supremacy between Vandegrift and Class 5A power Cedar Park will have to wait until next year.
District 26-6A, the other Class 6A district in the Austin area, will have a similar approach. Coaches met Wednesday and “everyone was on the same page,” according to Austin High coach Mike Rosenthal. The DEC will likely meet later this week to approve the plan of starting district play Oct. 8 and having two byes in the eight-game district schedule.
“I think it’s really important to have those two district byes because of the unpredictable nature of this (virus), and we are all in agreement on that,” he said. “We all want to make it as safe as possible and get the seniors a real season.”
Three of the four Class 5A districts in the Austin area have eight teams, which will likely lead to a similar schedule that includes seven district games, one nondistrict game and two byes. District 14-5A DII, which has five teams from the Austin school district as well as Liberty Hill and Marble Falls, could get two nondistrict games depending on the decision of the district’s DEC.
Barring any setbacks forced by a pandemic that continues to ravage the state, most Central Texas programs in Class 4A and below will be able to assume their regular schedule beginning with the start of summer workouts Aug. 3, unless they have a 5A or 6A team on the nondistrict schedule. Giddings coach Wade Griffin said his team will have to cut out its first scrimmage but should be able to play its previously scheduled set of games.
But LBJ, New Tech and Eastside Memorial are among the area 4A schools that can’t begin play until Oct. 1 because of local health restrictions. Each school competes in a six-team district, which will give them one nondistrict game before district play begins the week of Oct. 8.
LBJ, a perennial playoff participant in Class 5A, drops down to 4A with hopes of a long playoff run. The Jags had scheduled a rugged nondistrict slate that included a Class 6A team in Killeen Shoemaker, Class 5A playoff hopefuls in Manor and Liberty Hill, and a meeting with two-time Class 4A DI state finalist Waco La Vega. None of those games will happen, although Fenner hopes to find one nondistrict game on Oct. 3 in what had originally been scheduled as a bye week.
“We’ll be ready,” Fenner said Tuesday. “Just a little more adversity to overcome.”