MHSAA says schools may lose 1 prep football game

By Creg Stephenson/The Mississippi Press

GULFPORT — A state law that goes into effect with the 2014-15 school year will almost certainly alter the length of the high school football season, says Mississippi High School Activities Association executive director Don Hinton.

Hinton and MHSAA director of development Todd Kelly were in Gulfport on Thursday to address a state high school principals’ convention.

Chief among the topics they addressed was House Bill 707, which becomes law on July 1. It states that beginning in two years, the first day of school can fall no earlier than the third Monday in August.

Hinton said the law will affect the high school football practice and game calendars.

Mississippi high school football teams have been playing 11 regular-season games for several years, with the season-opener having fallen on the third Friday in August since 2009.

The fall semester has started earlier and earlier in recent years, with the Jackson County School District, for example, beginning classes on Aug. 6 this year. Because the MHSAA requires 15 practice days before the first football game, a later start to the school year would make it unfeasible to begin the regular season so early.

“It’s very possible that in 2014, teams will lose a game from their schedules,” Hinton said. “With House Bill 707, we’ll probably have to push the start of the season back at least a week. You still want your teams to have their two weeks of (practice before the start of the school year), but that poses a problem in our rural areas.

“There are a lot of students in certain parts of the state who do not have transportation to practice other than the school bus. We don’t want those schools and those students to be at a disadvantage.

“We’ve got two years before it takes effect, but it’s something we’ll have to continue to look at with our calendar. We’ve got a lot of overlap between sports as it is, and this might cause that to be even more of an issue,” he said.

Class 5A schools began playing an 11th (or “classic”) regular-season game in the mid-1990s, and the other classifications followed suit in the mid-2000s. Classes 5A and 6A — which contain 32 schools each — are required to have one open date on their football schedules, which extends the regular season to 12 weeks.

The classic game is typically a rivalry game, among the biggest revenue-generating contests of the season. But with evening temperatures approaching triple digits in August in Mississippi, administrators, coaches and fans have had to walk a fine line during the early part of the football season.

“Football has become a year-round sport with offseason conditioning and 7-on-7 (tournaments) going on,” Hinton said. “That has helped us from a safety standpoint, as far as getting acclimated to the heat. But we continue to rely on our sports medicine advisory board to set those guidelines for us and we feel good that we’re being responsible in that area.”