Commentary: Ravenwood's football practice situation screams for change

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams

Joe has been a contributor at the Herald since 2006. He took over as sports editor in 2013 and helped launch our live streaming of games in 2015. He has more than 20 years of experience broadcasting sports, including 10 years at WAKM-AM 950. Follow him on Twitter @whsports. 

On Thursday, the story broke that Ravenwood assistant football coach Ryan Fowler had put on pads and participated in drills, resulting in an injury to a player.

On Friday, Williamson County Schools suspended Fowler and Raptor head coach Matt Daniels pending an investigation.

It was also the day the TSSAA said the participation by a coach was not a violation of association rules or by-laws.

I still haven’t picked my jaw up off the floor.

First, the fact any coach would be an active, padded and helmeted participant in a high school practice boggles my mind. When that coach is a former NFL starter, barely 10 years retired, it is just a terrible visual. And a horrible lapse in judgement.

Bad visual, but no violations. So, you have to ask, why are coaches suspended? What is there to be investigated?

Because the county school system is about to make it a violation.

You have to look closely at the well wordsmithed release from Williamson County Schools. It’s not an investigation into “illegal participation,” but rather, “inappropriate participation.”

In other words, WCS is about to do what the TSSAA should have already done and put a halt to coaches suiting up.

Reportedly this has occurred on multiple occasions going back at least three years. But you really can’t fault Fowler; the participation was known by the head coach, the school’s athletic director (also an assistant coach), and the athletic principal, who is reportedly a regular visitor at practice. By extension, the executive principal should have known it was happening.

If the WCS investigation finds there was “inappropriate participation,” I think the next sentence could contain the NCAA term, “lack of institutional control.”

I can assure you of one thing: neither Fowler or Daniels or anyone else intended any harm. Fowler is beloved by his charges and Daniels is one of the brightest rising stars among young coaches in the state, one who the kids love, too. But the driver trying to beat the red light who hit the pedestrian meant no harm either.

The biggest black eye in this situation may well belong to the TSSAA. I still can’t imagine how a grown adult suiting up, in any degree, and participating in a high school practice is not a violation. There have been sanctions in the past against schools who used “visiting practice players,” but always because they weren’t part of the registered coaching staff.

Want a new way to toughen up your team? Try this on for size. Next year, just get 15 or 20 former Titans approved as volunteer, non-faculty coaches (there is no limit, by the way), and let them show your kids what a real practice regime is really like. Sounds preposterous, I know, but under the current by-law interpretation, it’s possible.

Let’s face it, if a kid is injured in an illegal practice, the settlement zeros multiply. But if a kid gets hurt in a practice using sanctioned methods, well, football is a dangerous game involving full contact and injuries happen.

And if I were an attorney, I’m not sure I could present that defense with a straight face.

I don’t know how the county’s investigation will end, if there will be any repercussions at all. But I do know the TSSAA is an organization of member schools and the leaders of those schools, preferably at least one from Williamson County, needs to step up right now and make sure no coach or player is ever in this position again.

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