NJSIAA announces return-to-play plan for fall and winter, moves two fall sports
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's Sports Advisory Task Force on Thursday announced its 2020-2021 Return-to-Play plan, which includes the creation of another sports season in late winter when girls volleyball and gymnastics will be contested.
While most fall sports will go on as planned in accordance with guidelines previously introduced by the NJSIAA, the two sports that compete indoors will be moved. Gov. Phil Murphy has expressed his concern with indoor sports at this time. The girls volleyball /gymnastics season will start practice on Feb. 16, 2021, with regular-season competition set to begin on March 3 and conclude on April 14. The postseason for those two sports will run from April 15 to April 24. This season is referred to as the 'third' season in the NJSIAA's plan.
The fall sports which compete outdoors - football, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, girls tennis and cross country - will continue on their current trajectory. When the summer period ends there will be a dead period for all sports from Aug. 29 through Sept. 13. Practices can resume on Sept. 14 and heat acclimatization for football and field hockey may start on Sept. 11. The girls tennis regular season will begin on Sept. 28, the soccer, field hockey and cross country seasons will begin on Thursday, Oct. 1 and the football season will commence on Friday, Oct. 2.
Season 3 will also be used as a contingency plan if the fall season is suspended due to deteriorating health conditions. If that occurs, the NJSIAA will consider the percentage of the season that has been completed and decide whether the season will be concluded within Season 3. If fall sports were to be suspended before the start of the regular season, they would move to Season 3 and begin on the same dates (Fe. 16, March 3).
Also included in Thursday's memo was start dates for the winter season. Practices will begin on Dec. 3 and regular-season competition will begin on Monday, Dec. 21, and end on Feb. 3. The postseason tournaments will run from Feb. 5 through Feb. 17 and, depending on the sport, will be structured regionally based on counties or based on NJSIAA selections.
Further clarification was not provided on what that will look like, especially in the case of the wrestling postseason, which has separate state tournaments for teams and individuals and uses a a three-stage individual state tournament that culminates with a three-day state tournament at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. Given that one of the NJSIAA's guiding principles during the COVID-19 pandemic is to "minimize the importance of postseason, state-wide championships" and "focus this year on participation as opposed to championships", it appears unlikely that a usual state tournament, in any sport, will take place,
Out-of-state competition will be prohibited for the winter season, eliminating the several marquee tournaments that many basketball and wrestling teams usually enter. The eligibility date for transfers who changed schools after Nov. 1, 2020, is Jan. 11. Student-athletes who transferred between March 16 and Nov. 1 will be eligible immediately.
The NJSIAA said dates for the spring season will be announced at a later time and indicated that many variables, including the status of the virus and if any additional sports have been moved to Season 3, will affect the start of the spring season. The organization did say the practice start date and regular-season start date will most likely be pushed back for all spring sports and the postseason will likely end later than in prior years.
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