Zone Read: Scheduled As Planned

Oh, hello August. Has this not been the fastest slowest Arizona summer or is it just me?

Well, here we are. 

Another week.

Another indiscriminate Thursday Doug Ducey “press conference.”

Another “Zone Read.”

“Old School” Mistake

Let’s just cut to the chase: AIA Executive Director David Hines simply isn’t going to make everyone happy.

I get it.

The juggling act with schools in different workout “phases” when it comes to high school football and its scheduled start on September 11 has to be a living nightmare for Hines and his support staff – especially considering the rudderless ship our Governor has cast the AIA, coaches, players and staff members in out to the open sea of uncertainty.

With that being said, the comments Hines made earlier in the week to Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat when asked about some schools having little, if any, in-person team training going back to as early as January of this year, seem not only miscast but completely out of touch with the evolution of high school football in this state.

“I would say we are going to be old school,” Hines said of asking some programs around the state to ramp up and play with just a few weeks of preparation once in-class learning begins. “Back when I coached and I played we did not have access to our kids or our coaches during the summer. Practice started on the first day of practice and so you had three or four weeks to get ready for the first game or your season whenever you played.”

Stop.

Please don’t compare Arizona high school football in the 1970’s and ’80’s to the modern day version. There are few similarities outside of 11 players on each side, two goal posts and a 100-yard field.

We here at the “Zone Read” have spent years discussing the “next level” athletes who spend nearly every month of their high school days training, lifting, grinding, getting their bodies, and minds for that matter, ready to compete on Friday nights in the fall.

I’d encourage everyone to go pick up the 2020 Lindy’s College Football Preview and flip to the Top 25 national recruiting section to see just how big this state has gotten when it comes to prep football talent on a national level.

This tweet is a friendly reminder of the dilemma Tucson public high schools and others around Arizona face as we hit August.

Here’s A Solution

Let the current situation breath and hopefully watch the still white-hot Arizona COVID-19 cases first flatten and then, ideally, decrease in two months.

“Zone Read” says start the 8-game, no bye regular season on October 2nd. Re-work the schedules so teams would play region opponents and three travel-friendly area schools which would, for the most part, eliminate long, unnecessary bus rides as a safety precaution (IE: Boulder Creek at Casteel, Horizon at Maricopa, etc.).

The playoffs would begin December 4th and conclude either December 26th or January 2nd if you opted to use Christmas week as a bye for the teams in the big divisions/Open 8 Championships. This would allow players and their families to travel the week, or at least partially the week, of the holiday if they chose to.

This revised version would not only “balance the playing field” when it comes to teams being physically ready to play a full season (equal phases), it wouldn’t overlap with spring sports and allow those multi-sport athletes who play football and say, baseball or participate in track, the opportunity to let their bodies and minds recover before transitioning into their second sport.

Football players who also played basketball would likely only lose a handful of games in the winter and that’s assuming their football team made a deep run in the playoffs. 

Further, you’d get close to a 10-degree temperature drop for normal 7:00 kickoffs pushing the start of the season back just three weeks to early October. Players would “lose” only two games off of their normal season schedule, yet the postseason wouldn’t drag into the start of schools reconvening after winter break in January. 

If 17 members of the Miami Marlins organization tested positive for the virus, please tell me how we’re going to keep high school football players, coaches and staff members safe trying to square peg, round hole a September start date.

Means More For The Union?

Physically, mentally, emotionally these are trying times for everyone but does the possibility of another lost prep season as we saw in the spring mean more for the Phoenix Union Schools whose students may use athletics and team sports as a way of helping balance some life challenges they may encounter away from school?

“I don’t think it means more for the Phoenix Union kids but it’s one of the key contributors to keeping kids connected to their school,” South Mountain High Athletic Director Brian Fair said to the “Zone Read.” “With us starting virtually it’s very important that we keep kids [engaged]…in saying all that, the biggest aspect is we want our kids to be safe.”

Fair, a former three-sport standout at South who played college basketball at Connecticut, is the parent of a student-athlete at South – junior football wide receiver and track star, Brian Fair, Jr.

Their father-son conversations during the pandemic and seemingly ever-changing COVID-19 sports calendar have focused on staying active and, most importantly, being ready when sports do return at the high school level – whenever that may be.

Fair’s big-picture message to all Phoenix Union student-athletes is simple. 

“All the kids need to just stay the course and be patient,” he explained. “When you look around and see club basketball and soccer, baseball, softball all out there participating –  the next step is the high schools follow suit. That may be far from the truth.”

“I think the high schools are playing it safe. There’s no greater influence than keeping our kids safe and that’s something no one can argue with. We don’t want to rush the process.”

BCP Proactively 

One school has already decided not to rush the process.

Earlier this week Brophy College Prep announced they will remain in Phase 1 with their athletic programs until at least September 8th.

“The kids were obviously devastated,” head football coach Jason Jewell said to the “Zone Read.” “But when it was explained to them that we just weren’t throwing in the towel…they were good. They’re still motivated. Brophy isn’t giving up on them.”

To be clear, BCP isn’t “canceling” their football season, they’re simply pushing the process back. It’s a decision, according to many other coaches who I’ve spoken with, applaud as a precaution to keep everyone on campus safe.

Jewell, who has been working with Brophy Principal Robert Ryan, said the Broncos would entertain playing games in-season or even practice in pads so players could get some film. IF BCP doesn’t play any games this fall, Jewell said he would host combines in October and December which would be live-streamed and posted on Hudl for interested college coaches to evaluate.

“Our whole deal was, we won’t be ready to play, the state won’t be ready to play a game September 11th or a freshman game September 9th.”

Bingo.