Coaches weigh AHSAA options

A Sylvania defender breaks up a pass over the middle of the field during a 7-on-7 passing workout with Geraldine in July 2019.

FORT PAYNE — With the Alabama High School Athletic Association recently passing a proposal that would allow fall sports teams the option to forgo spring practices in exchange for starting preseason practices a week in advance in the fall, it’s giving coaches around the state something new to consider.

The proposal set to launch in 2021 will apply to all fall sports (football, cross country, volleyball and swimming). It passed by a 22-10 vote.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a cancellation of all spring sports, including practices, for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, the AHSAA’s new proposal could willingly change the way teams approach practices in 2021.

Football teams would lose 10 spring practice dates if opting for the extra week of fall practices. According to the AHSAA, the additional fall schedule would allow teams to begin practicing on the “Monday before the first Monday in August.”

DeKalb County coaches are weighing their options.

Fort Payne head football coach Chris Elmore said he’s considering not having spring training.

“I would rather have my entire team for one week in the fall than have 60 percent of my team and coaches for two weeks in the spring,” Elmore said.

Elmore said he’s considering Fort Payne’s high number of multi-sport athletes in the decision. 

“When you sit down and look at a calendar for a multi-sport athlete, I start to worry that we are asking too much of these players,” he said. “Whether they play baseball, track, soccer, tennis or golf, we are asking a lot of them to compete to the best of their ability in that sport and then report for spring football practice the Monday after their spring sport season ends.

“If this athlete also plays basketball or wrestles, then they have not had a break in almost a year. Since we like to play Week 0 in football, I see the benefit of having an extra week in the fall over the two weeks in the spring when you consider the amount of multi-sport athletes at Fort Payne.”

In regards to the floating idea of the AHSAA considering giving teams an extra fall preseason game, Elmore said he would not be in favor of it.

“I think 10 regular season games are enough,” he said. “We like having the bye week so we like to play Week 0. I always worry about the health and energy of our teams late in the season and during the playoffs. I think an extra scrimmage would just add to the fatigue of our players late in the season.”

Ider head coach Miles Keith said some years teams may skew younger and need additional practice time to answer some questions, so he likes having the ability to choose whether or not to skip spring drills.

Some of the important questions factoring into the decision for Keith include: How physical will the team be?; Are certain players ready to face varsity competition?

“Some years, coaches may adopt new pass game concepts, blocking schemes, defensive fronts over the offseason and spring ball would be the time to install those schemes,” Keith said. “This is where we have been; We are still a pretty young team and have adopted some new concepts we were going to put in.

“Some years, coaches may have more mature teams, and coaches know what their teams are capable of so they may forgo the spring evaluation period and just focus more on the strength and conditioning of their teams.”

During his coaching stint in Tennessee, Keith said the state’s athletic governing body allowed teams to organize a fall camp with controlled practices in full pads with no longer than two-hour scrimmages with officials. Officials were required to be present during scrimmages.

Keith said he believes the AHSAA’s officials would benefit from the policy as well, by being able to host clinics for game officials at the scrimmages.

“It is a win-win for everyone. I have always loved this idea and wished Alabama would adopt this process,” Keith said.

Keith said he sees the future option as a positive for small schools with multi-sport athletes. With many Ider football players also playing baseball in the spring, he said if the baseball team makes a deep playoff run, it takes pressure off those who also play football where they won’t feel the need to rush into spring drills.

“As the head football coach I could decide to forgo spring evaluation and would still have all of July and the better part of August to get those multi-sport guys up to speed,” Keith said. “I like the rule, and I believe the AHSAA hit a home run on this rule. Especially from a small school perspective.”

Considering some football teams play Week 0 with a bye, Plainview head coach Nick Ledbetter said “the new proposal is a good thing.”

“If an advantage was possible, the new rule balances everything out,” he said.

Like Elmore and Keith, Ledbetter sees a lot of variables in the choice to commence spring drills or wait until fall. He said a team filled with experienced upperclassmen could benefit in opting out of spring work, just as if a team has a strong understanding of the system.

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