While the FHSAA waffled this past week with the fall high school sports schedule hanging in the balance, area football coaches took action.
In an effort to preserve some sort of season, coaches from Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties met this past Thursday as the FHSAA voted to postpone the 2020-21 fall sports calendar start date until Aug. 24 and started putting together a plan to play football when school resumes, several coaches confirmed.
"We’re just trying to have a backup plan for these kids, so they can play," Niceville coach Grant Thompson told the Daily News on Friday. "It’s in its infancy stages. We’re not ready to unveil this is what we’re doing. We just want to have a plan if we need it."
According to the Pensacola News Journal, Booker T. Washington coach and Niceville football alum Tommy Joe Whiddon presented the plan, which would see the creation of a Panhandle Conference, though Thompson cautioned it was a contingency plan.
Under the plan, football teams from Class 3A and up in the three-county area would divide down the middle; teams from Escambia County and Gulf Breeze would represent a western conference and the remaining teams from Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties — including Choctaw, Crestview, Fort Walton Beach, Navarre and Niceville — would represent an eastern conference.
Teams would then play each of their conference foes once and play two games against teams from the other conference. At the end of the regular season, the top four teams from each conference would face off in a bracketed playoff, culminating in a championship game. The coaching coalition is eyeing Pensacola Blue Wahoos Stadium for the championship game.
"This whole thing is not about playing as soon as possible, we’ve got to respect COVID-19," Whiddon told the News Journal on Tuesday. "Our plan is simply to have a plan for whenever it’s time to play. A lot of coaches feel that the FHSAA hasn’t been giving us any sense of security about what to expect this season. I shot out this plan to a couple coaches and they thought it was a cool idea.
"As we saw more and more dysfunction from the FHSAA, the more people liked this idea. The details are not 100 % ironed out, but it’s something we can have in our back pocket and if we feel like we need to use, we can."
Thompson said enacting the plan depends on how the FHSAA rules when its board of directors meets again in mid August to determine if the Aug. 24 start date remains viable.
"If there’s no state series, then we’re gonna have a plan in place to have something to play for, a conference championship," Thompson said. "It’s just kind of dependent on the rest of the counties and the rest of the state and how this is gonna go testing-wise and who’s gonna be back at school and who’s gonna be able to play and if we’re gonna even be able to put together a state series."
Meanwhile, Navarre coach Jay Walls told the Daily News on Friday the plan remains flexible, and the News Journal reported Tuesday the coaching coalition is scheduled to meet again Thursday to further fine-tune the potential Panhandle Conference.
"Right now, it’s an open discussion," Walls said. "We did meet and we left in agreement of the format. Everybody feels like it’s what’s best for the three-county region."