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How are high school athletics going to look in the fall?

Unfortunately, as we reach the middle of May, the question is starting to become a front-burner issue.

At this point, no one knows how the 2020-21 school year will look, or whether it will start on time. Because of that, it’s hard to imagine when or if our high school and college athletes who play fall sports will be permitted to start their preparations.

Over the last 10 days, the MDJ sports department sent Google surveys to the high school football coaches and athletic directors in Cobb County. Of the 42 who were sent surveys, 30 were returned, all of which were anonymous.

We asked four main questions:

♦ When do you expect students to return to campus to prepare for fall activities?

♦ Do you expect a full fall season of sports during the 2020-21 school year?

♦ Do you think games will be played with fans in the stands from the beginning of the season?

♦ Other states, like Ohio for instance, are considering moving the football season to the spring. Would you consider this a possibility?

At this point, coaches and athletic directors around the county expect to be playing football, softball, volleyball and running cross country this fall. Here is how they answered the questions.

When do you expect students to return to campus to prepare for fall activities?

The coaches and ADs were given a multiple-choice answer of June, July, August or later. Twenty-one of the 30 respondents expected players to be back on campus in July preparing for the season. Seven said they expect to be back in June, and two answered August.

Earlier this month, Georgia High School Association executive director Robin Hines said he was hopeful that students would be getting back to work in June.

Former Lassiter and Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason, who was on last weekend’s MDJ Podcast, is a college football analyst for ESPN and the SEC Network. He said what he is hearing from the coaches around the college football world is July. As a former player who is familiar with the inner workings of both the high school and college games, Mason said it would be important for everyone involved to be back by then if the seasons are going to start on time.

“I would say (the players) need five to six weeks to get ready,” Mason said. “If you don’t have the kids back in school and on campus by July 1, you start to look at a delay to the start of the high school and college football seasons.

“I believe, deep down, (high school and) college football season is going to happen. It may not start on time, but I do believe we will get a season in 2020.”

Do you expect a full fall season of sports during the 2020-21 school year?

If the seasons are delayed, it could force the elimination of bye weeks, or a shortened season of some sort, but the majority of the Cobb County coaches and athletic directors expected a full season of action. Twenty-one expected to have a full season, while nine did not.

For the nine who did not expect the full schedule, most expect to play 70 or 80% of the games. A couple replies suggested playing only region games.

That would be difficult in Cobb County. For football, the new Class AAAAAAA regions have only five opponents, while the new Region 6AAAAAAA is made up of nine county schools, which would mean eight region games. Similar situations apply for our Class A private schools. The number of games or matches needed would likely be doubled for softball and volleyball.

Do you think games will be played with fans in the stands from the beginning of the season?

While Major League Baseball and the NBA are trying to get their seasons started or restarted without fans in the stands, they, along with the NFL and major college football, have the added benefit of receiving millions of dollars of television money that can help offset the loss of gate receipts.

Smaller college programs and high schools do not have the same luxury. The monies raised by those programs go to help the rest of the schools’ athletic programs.

While not asking what percentage of the stands would be utilized, 22 of the coaches and athletic directors said they expected fans to be present from the opening game of the season, while eight did not. Some hoped the number of fans — regardless of sport — could gradually increase as the season went on.

Mason said playing in front of an empty stadium would be one of the biggest challenges the coaches would have.

“I can’t imagine playing without (fans),” he said. “I played many of my spring scrimmages at Georgia in the stadium without anybody in it. I know the feeling. It’s weird and it’s eerie.

“Football is such an emotional game. A lot of players play the game at a higher level because of the crowd. I think coaches should be concerned how that affects 16-, 17-year-old kids at the high school level.”

Other states, like Ohio for instance, are considering moving the football season to the spring. Would you consider this a possibility?

No one wants to have to consider this, but 13 of the coaches and ADs would be willing to play football in the spring if necessary.

The obvious issue is that lacrosse and soccer are almost always played on a school’s football field, so schedules would have to be adjusted, but it is one way to try to make sure the biggest money-maker in high school sports is salvaged, if a fall schedule is not possible.

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John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski.

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