Murphy Announces Return of Some Organized Sports for June 22
Monday marks the first day of June, 2020 and according to a statement from Governor Phil Murphy on Friday, it could also mark the beginning of a three-week countdown to the first organized baseball games of the year in New Jersey.
During a press briefing and also through a post on Twitter Friday, Murphy said that non-contact organized sports will be permitted to resume on June 22, provided they follow "health and safety safeguards."
The range of sports and activities that will be permitted is not totally clear, but based on Murphy's statement, baseball appears to clear the bar as an activity that can resume on June 22.
"(On June 22), activities will be limited to sports activities conducted outdoors and there can be no contact drills or activities for the time being," Murphy said during his briefing.
Right after saying that "contact activities" would still be off the table, however, he said, "For the countless kids who have been looking forward to playing baseball, softball, soccer or other sports, we are proud to take this step."
According to guidelines released by the NFHS earlier this month, baseball could be considered a "low-risk" sport under the proper safety conditions while soccer is considered to be a moderate risk. If soccer were permitted to resume on June 22, the case could be made that outdoor basketball and flag football should also be permitted to resume as both are considered moderate-risk sports along with soccer.
The NFHS guidelines could serve as a framework for any organized sports league, but they are not, as of Friday, directly related to the organized sports that would be played starting June 22.
The details of a potential return to the field for baseball or any other sport are still vague and up for interpretation, but figure to become more clear over the next several weeks as leagues eye the start of their seasons. Limits on crowd size for outdoor events are the only clear restriction and those restrictions could be different by June 22.
A group of high-school baseball coaches have begun putting together a statewide baseball tournament for what would have been 2020 rosters from high schools around the state. The event is currently called the Last Dance Tournament and under the current proposal, it would begin play on July 7 at several locations to be determined around the state.
In the case of the Last Dance Tournament, a lifting of restrictions on June 22 would give teams two full weeks together before the start of pool play.
Little League International canceled the 2020 Little League World Series but left open the possibility of local leagues playing an abbreviated season if conditions permitted. Ohio dropped its restrictions on organized sports on Tuesday and several leagues began practices, although many leagues will not be holding a season. In the case of Ohio's District 11, only six out of the 19 leagues that are part of the district plan on playing games in 2020.
New Jersey could be in a similar position with some localities not prepared or willing to hold a season, but New Jersey Little League is prepared to hold statewide playoffs and play to a state championship game in its 10-to-12-year-old league and Senior League in both baseball and softball.
"It's still a work-in-progress," New Jersey Little League State Director Carmine Conti said. "We are starting to get an idea of what the date means but nothing is concrete at the moment. We have seen some early guidelines that address some of points, but not all points as it pertains to safety and what we'll be expected to do. All-in-all, though, it was great to hear the governor give us a date and it's a great step in the right direction."
According to Conti, as long as Little League seasons are able to start by July 15, there will be district, section and statewide tournaments held in August and into September. Districts and Sections will have the option to use their regular format - pool play at the district level and double-elimination at the sectional level - but the state finals will be shortened from double-elimination to single-elimination.
"Those are the four leagues we run where kids are getting their last year to play, so those are the leagues we wanted to prioritize," said Conti, who also said other age groups and leagues will be run at the local levels.
Another change for the Little League season will be that players who live in towns that decide not to host games in 2020 will be allowed to play for other towns. Conti said there are no restrictions on who players in that situation can choose to play with and that league presidents will be required to sign off on those cases.
"Little League is doing the right thing," Conti said. "They have given us a lot of flexibility to try to run a season that's as close to normal as we can. It's going to be different, but if the governor and the health department tell us it's safe to play, we are prepared to give the kids a chance to play."
Basketball summer leagues are still, at best, in a holding pattern. The Jersey Shore Basketball League - which celebrated its 50th season in the summer of 2020 - is on the brink of being canceled for this summer, according to an email from commissioner Ron Kornegay.
According to the email, the JSBL is still awaiting on approval from the NCAA to run the league and expects many - perhaps all - colleges would opt not to allow their athletes to play in the league. The league would also likely have to move back outdoors after playing at St. Rose and Wall High Schools in recent years.
Outdoor summer leagues at Mallard Park in Manasquan and Victory Park in Rumson are also up in the air, with Rumson's Thursday Night Lights league geared toward high-school and middle-school-aged players.