The New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) announced on Friday that there will be a shortened fall sports season, beginning Sept. 28 for girls’ tennis and Oct. 1 for all other sports, except football, which will open Oct. 2.
The fall sports that the NJSIAA offers are football, boys’ and girls’ cross country, boys’ and girls’ soccer, field hockey, girls’ tennis and girls’ volleyball.
Fall sports practices may begin on Sept.. 14.
Football, which originally had some teams playing regular-season games the first week of September, will have a six-game regular season and then there are two weeks allowed for playoffs. The football regular season will conclude on Nov. 7. While all sports are slated to end by Nov. 22, there is one exception for football: If teams want to play a traditional Thanksgiving game (Nov. 26), they will be allowed. So conceivably, a football team could play as many as nine games.
During a Zoom media call on Friday afternoon, NJSIAA chief operating officer Colleen Maguire said that she is open to all playoff format suggestions.
“I’m looking for a lot of input and a lot of creativity to to provide meaningful games to the conclusion of the season,” she said.
Maguire also said that any playoffs would be at the sectional level or below, meaning there would be no state championships this fall. New Jersey has four sections - South, Central, North I and North II.
It’s possible that football could return to the pre-1998 model when only four teams per section qualified for the playoffs, meaning there were only two rounds - a sectional semifinal and a South Jersey championship.
Other than football, the regular season for girls’ tennis will conclude on Oct. 23. All other sports will have regular seasons conclude on Nov. 12. Limited postseason play will run Oct. 24-31 for girls’ tennis, and Nov. 13-22 for all other sports. Schools that do not participate in the postseason may continue to play until Nov. 22.
Summer workouts for teams may begin on Monday and continue through Aug. 28. After that, there will be a two-week hiatus from Aug. 29 through Sept. 13, during which only virtual meetings will be permitted, and only related to in-season fall sports.
When asked if fans would be allowed to attend games, Maguire said, “There has been no determination on that. That will be the department of health guidelines.”
Maguire was asked what happens if school districts have different plans for school attendance, with some maybe not having in-school plans for five days a week.
“That will be up to each school district to figure out what they do and do not want to accommodate, offer,” she said. “We have ‘here is your schedule, here is the time frame we are working under, every school work out, what works out for them.' Because every school district will have their own school plan in place.”
With the uncertainty of the coronavirus, all these plans by the NJSIAA clearly remain fluid.
“What is good about this now is that schools can now begin to plan for fall athletics, but it allows the NJSIAA time to first develop backup models, contingency plans for the many scenarios that we envision could be occurring with the start of the school year or during the school year,” Maguire said. “So now we are going to start working on contingency plans. With that said, it also allows us the summer to monitor what the health circumstances are going to be and are there going to be any changes to the return to school guidelines.”
The NJSIAA understands the future is difficult to predict, which is why it hopes to have a strong list of contingency plans.