EDINBURG — Athletic coordinators and coaches from Edinburg, La Joya, Mission, Pharr and San Juan have begun revealing scheduling changes for this upcoming season, as teams throughout District 31-6A attempt to prepare for the most uniquely unusual Texas high school high school football season on record.

Coaches in 31-6A and throughout the entire Rio Grande Valley have had to adjust quickly to several county public health orders and an edict from the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for public high school sports statewide, that bumped back the start of fall sports due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and caused immediate confusion.

Head football coaches from each school in the nine-team district — Edinburg Economedes, Edinburg High, Edinburg North, Edinburg Vela, La Joya High, La Joya Juarez-Lincoln, Mission High, PSJA High and PSJA North — agreed to adopt numerous, wide-sweeping changes for the season ahead.

The most difficult decision? How to divide nine teams between two zones.

The District 31-6A football coaches agreed to split into a four-team north zone with each of the Edinburg high schools and a separate, five-team south zone which will include La Joya High, La Joya Juarez-Lincoln, Mission High, PSJA High and PSJA North, which spent the last two seasons together in District 30-6A with the trio McAllen ISD high schools that dropped down to Class 5A.

“It was a little difficult and frustrating at first,” PSJA High athletic coordinator and head football coach Lupe Rodriguez said. “It was a little weird deciding how we were going to break it down and who was going to be in what zone. We talked about different scenarios, but for us, it just worked out (best) geographically.”

The district somewhat reluctantly chose an unbalanced divisional setup because of the time constraints placed upon it to play a full, eight-game district schedule. Instead, 31-6A teams will play a minimum of six regular season games through seven weeks of play.

That will afford each program and their players a two-to-three week acclimation period, or an impromptu preseason.

Under the current proposal, each 31-6A team will play one scrimmage the weekend of Friday, Oct. 16, and one non-district game of their choosing, which preserves some traditional Week 1 Valley football rivalries like La Joya Juarez-Lincoln vs. La Joya Palmview, PSJA High vs. PSJA Southwest and Edinburg North vs. Mercedes.

Furthermore, the district will be one of only a few Valley football districts to feature protected rivalry games between cross-zone opponents to help balance the number of district games every team will play.

“At first, we weren’t supposed to (play teams in the other zone), at least for district, because we were responsible for finding our games. But (the four Edinburg schools) were going to have trouble finding games, so we decided to help out,” Rodriguez said. “We were supposed to have a bye and instead of having that bye, each team is scheduled to play their cross-zone rival.”

“We’re still struggling finding non-district games since our district decided to zone,” Edinburg Vela athletic coordinator and head football coach John Campbell said. “It’s still a work in progress.”

District 31-6A’s protected cross-zone rivalry games for this year will be: Edinburg Economedes vs. Mission High; Edinburg High vs. PSJA High; Juarez-Lincoln vs. Edinburg North and Vela vs. PSJA North.

La Joya High will scrimmage against Edinburg High in its only cross-zone regular season game.

“We were kind of able to alleviate that pressure with trying to find games by doing those cross-zone games,” Gonzales said. “It opens up the door for some of the older rivalries here. When I was playing here, we played the McHis and the Missions and the Pharrs and the La Joyas. We played everybody.

“There are more teams now down here in the Valley, but (our new district) was going to help rekindle some of those rivalries in the past.”

The teams that finish the regular season in first place in each zone will play for the 31-6A district championship the weekend of Friday, Dec. 4. The runners-up in each zone will play the third place team from the opposite zone that weekend too, with the winners of those games securing the district’s final pair of postseason berths.

Campbell, Gonzales and Rodriguez were also among the 31-6A coaches that enjoyed the benefit of being the only Valley district completely within one county, which prevented them from having to pick one shared start date like District 32-6A teams spread across Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

Programs across District 31-6A are tentatively planning to resume on-campus practices on either Monday, Sept. 28 — the earliest day on which Hidalgo County schools may reopen for on-campus instruction and extra-curricular activities — or Monday, Oct. 5.

But for now, many coaches and players like Gonzales are keeping their fingers crossed hoping to see the season start as scheduled this time.

“We’re in Year 3 of our program here and I think our staff has done a good job of implementing everything, so I really hope we get to play,” he said. “We’ve got a big senior class and when we took over here those guys were freshmen, so they’re eager, ready and anticipating hopefully playing this season and hopefully put a good product on the field.”

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch