The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association on Thursday announced significant delays in the start of winter sports because of COVID-19 concerns.
Under the NJSIAA’s new guidance, high school basketball teams will not be allowed to start practice until Jan. 11, with game competition to begin Jan. 26. The basketball season would run until March 6, with a limit of 15 games and no state tournaments, although leagues would be allowed to stage their own postseason playoffs.
Swimming and winter track and field is now scheduled to begin with practices on Feb. 1, and interscholastic events on Feb. 16, with March 27 as the final day of competition.
Wrestling, girls’ volleyball and gymnastics are now scheduled to begin with practices on March 1 and competition on March 16. Those seasons would run through April 24 with the format of possible postseason competition still to be determined.
Ice hockey teams will be allowed to start practice Dec. 14 with games set to begin Jan. 4 and end Feb. 17. The earlier start for ice hockey competition was related to contractual obligations with rinks, the NJSIAA said.
The NJSIAA noted in a memo sent to member schools that a task force will announce plans for spring sports before Dec. 11, with “the spring season mostly likely to extend through the month of June.”
The new guidance came as coronavirus cases continue to climb in New Jersey, and several school districts have announced plans to return to virtual-only learning or continue with that format.
The NJSIAA noted that under Gov. Murphy’s executive order 196, indoor practices and competitions are limited to 10 people. But the organization noted that if the number of individuals necessary for the practice or competition, such as players, coaches and referees, is greater than 10, the practice or competition may proceed.
If that exception applies, the number of individuals still may not exceed 25 percent of the room capacity or 150 people, whichever is less.
“Practically speaking, this means that spectators are prohibited,” the NJSIAA said in a statement.
NJSIAA chief operating officer Colleen Maguire addressed the new guidance in a statement.
“We remain keenly focused on providing New Jersey’s student athletes with the opportunity to participate in sports, and given the current health data and modeling, we believe pushing the schedules back ensures the best opportunity for our kids,” Maguire said. “As was the case in the fall, the potential for play is ultimately based on everyone working together to keep our communities safe and healthy.”