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Football is back, that’s where total normalcy stops

It has officially arrived!

The day so many across the Ohio Valley and state of Ohio have been waiting for.

After many months of speculation, questions, debate and even a high level of doubts, football season 2020 is about to kick off.

The season officially begins, locally, with Barnesville visiting Buckeye Local tonight and then a full slate of games highlights Friday’s card and the opening weekend winds down with a few Saturday games.

As the cover of the The Times Leader’s Pigskin Preview said, we are about to ‘Play through a Pandemic.’

Quite honestly, players, coaches, parents, fans, cheerleaders, band members and even media types couldn’t be happier about that.

Even though many differences are in store as some of us arrive at various stadiums around the Ohio Valley, the end result of watching youngsters compete in a sport makes things feel like normal.

Other than maybe the return of summer baseball and softball, and the eventual restarts of NASCAR, golf, MLB, NBA and NHL, normalcy has been relatively hard to find.

Let’s temper the excitement before we get carried away thinking everything is back to the way it was a year ago. Because, honestly, nothing about 2020 is normal.

Though football begins tonight, settle in because the term ‘fluid’ is one we’ve all become all too familiar with in the last five or so months.

Football — and all fall sports — are back. But, they’re far from what we’re accustomed to as sports fans.

All of the differences that will make this season one to remember regardless of won-loss record, stem from the coronavirus and ongoing pandemic.

Interestingly, all of the differences stem from the coronavirus.

Combining the governor’s office, the National Federation of High Schools, the OHSAA and the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, a set of guidelines, protocols were established and are expected to be followed all season.

Speaking of the OHSAA, let’s start there as we dissect some of the changes.

The organization, which is in its 114th year of serving the Buckeye State schools, issued a calendar change earlier this month.

Instead of playing 10 consecutive weeks and the top eight in each region qualify for the playoffs, the OHSAA issued a change in the season and shortened the pre-playoff portion of the regular season to six games and invited every team into the tournament. Teams do have the option to opt out of the playoffs (and I believe several will before it’s said and done).

Teams are also able to resume their regular seasons once they lose in the tournament, especially if it’s within the first two rounds. I do expect most teams to take advantage of that because of the rivalries that exist and it’s a chance for the schools to recoup some money.

I have no issue with those changes. I believe allowing the schools to resume regular- season play is a fair trade because the OHSAA wanted to make sure it was able to complete its entire tournament before the weather really got cold and a possible virus uptick.

Now, let’s dive into the on-the-field changes.

Don’t be surprised when you see the center take the ball with him back to the huddle, while the official uses a bean bag to mark the spot.

I am interested to see how many third or fourth and shorts where an additional measurement is requested by a coach because of placement of the ball.

Some of the other differences are the length of halftime has been shaved to 10 minutes, time outs have been extended to up to two minutes, the players not in the game will stretch, on their sideline, from 10 yard line to 10 yard line to observe social distancing and after the games, the players will not shake hands.

In my mind, those changes — while some will be interesting to watch play out — aren’t the biggest.

The biggest changes come to the extra things that go along with the ‘Friday Night Lights’ and make them the spectacle that they are.

First and foremost, crowds have been drastically reduced. Only family members and only a certain number of those will be attending. Each school has come up with its own policy and approach based on its stadium seating numbers. Because the governor mandated whichever is less between 15% of the capacity or 1,500 people. Obviously, the local stadiums are in the former.

Marching bands will not travel this season. The home bands will play pregame and halftime as normal, but with the shortened halftime and desire to keep attendance down and socially distant, the OHSAA and Ohio Department of Health want only one band in attendance.

All people in attendance must wear a face covering. Obviously, some of the early season games could be quite warm. It doesn’t matter. Keep your mask on!

As you head out to the different games or cue up your smart devices to watch a livestream, enjoy the normalcy! Enjoy the game! But, be smart and be respectful.

Keep in mind that these games are being contested for the kids. If a school administrator or security official asks you something like, do not congregate, or make sure you’re sitting in the marked seats that have been established as socially distanced, or put a mask on or even denies you admittance to a stadium because you don’t have a ticket or aren’t a family member, be respectful and mindful of the big picture.

High school sports aren’t ever staged for fans to come and watch. Fans are a bonus.

Prep sports are held for the kids to further the educational process. And a couple of the biggest lessons that sports teach are respect and discipline.

My plea to you — the fans — is simply this: no matter what your personal opinions about COVID-19, the governor, politics, etc. are, just be a responsible adult. Do what you’re asked to do to help make sure these seasons go off as scheduled and planned because that’s what it’s all about.

Don’t be the reason that I’m writing a story next week that such and such school is shutting down its season because of a COVID-19 outbreak or the OHSAA is levying punishments because your favorite team didn’t follow the guidelines.

Staskey can be reached via email at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com or at twitter.com/TLSportsSeth

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