As Arkansas high school football coaches began practice Monday in unseasonably cool weather, some of their concern shifted to a suddenly hot issue concerning August of 2016.
The Governing Body of the Arkansas Activities Association, composed of administrators at every member school, will decide Wednesday whether to start the 2016 football season on Aug. 22, a week earlier than the traditional start. The regular season starts this year on Sept. 5, with a few games played earlier in the week.
Many football coaches are shaking their heads — for several reasons.
The new start would occur at what is usually the hottest part of the summer, when coaches are concerned about the effects of heat, conditioning and keeping their players in helmets and pads and off IV’s for dehydration.
The date that high schools can begin drills will not be any earlier, so coaches would lose a week of preseason preparation.
The earlier start would place state championship games on Thanksgiving weekend, which would cause travel issues to Little Rock for many fans and would conflict with Razorback and other college games (possibly playoffs). High school playoff games already take place on Thanksgiving weekend, but those include a home game for one opponent — they are not title games, and any playoff game on that weekend usually draws the lowest gate.
Strangely, the proposal got a do-pass by the AAA’s 19-member board of directors by a 19-0 margin. Never has the Governing Body rejected a 19-0 do-pass vote by its board of directors.
Many football coaches and athletic directors are asking, “why?” or “what were they thinking?” Others have more boldly pronounced the measure as “just stupid.”
The mystifying part is the football coaches are uncertain about the reasoning behind the proposal, which was approved at the AAA’s board of directors summer workshop.
Some say it’s to match up with schedules in adjacent states, where schools start a week or so earlier. But shouldn’t Arkansas officials pay more attention to what is the best schedule fit for Arkansas?
Some speculate it was a reaction to a week of playoffs that were delayed last year in December because of weather and icy conditions. That’s the most ridiculous reasoning. What happened was an anomaly. And icy or bad weather conditions are just as likely to occur in late November as December. Anyone who feels supremely confident about what weather conditions in Arkansas will be in November and December of 2016, please step forward and claim your Meteoroligist of the Decade Award.
There has been speculation that the proposal represented a stealth, backdoor way for some superintendents of traditional football/basketball powers to get their football players on the the basketball team earlier in time for the often-lucrative December basketball tournament season. That’s robbing Peter bigtime to pay Paul.
The worst, and most bothersome, part of the proposal is the seeming hypocrisy of it all.
High school athletic officials have increased their emphasis on recent years concerning health, safety and erring on the side of safety. That ranges from education on the effects of heat and dehydration to safety procedures for thunderstorms to reduced practice times to a current recommendation that will be considered to have only three days of contact per week which includes games. They require each school to have meetings with parents and players about nutrition, hydration and heat and safety issues.
Then, there comes a proposal (by unanimous vote at that) to begin the season in full pads during traditionally the hottest, most brutal weeks of the year — with heat indexes often above or near triple digits, even at night. And you’re starting the season at that time of year while the coaches have one less week to condition their players.
And what does this do, for both the safety and logistical standpoint, for the special games, put on by various media groups, that precede the usual start of the season by four or five days?
Razorback football coach Brett Bielema, adding power to the potential knockout clout, has joined the growing chorus of those against the proposal.
He noted that he sent out six coaches to view championship games last year but would be much more limited if the games occurred during a game week, most likely the last of the regular season.
“Hot August Nights” makes good music for Neil Diamond but lousy logic for football games.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or email@example.com or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)