ROBBINSVILLE, NJ -- The state agency that oversees high school sports, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), announced its guidelines on Friday to get student athletes back in action for the 2020 fall season. The guidelines also significantly altered the state playoff schedule. 

Under the "Return to Play" guidelines, the start of the season will be pushed back by approximately one-month with summer workouts for high school students beginning on July 13 and running until August 28. Student athletes will then have a two-week "summer recess period" between August 29 and September 13 during which only virtual meetings for those in-season sports will be permitted.  

Official practices for all sports will be able to start on September 14 with some competitions beginning on September 28 for girls tennis, and October 1 for other sports. The Fall sports season will come to an end by November 12 with "limited" post-season play ending by November 22.

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However, football will kick off its season on Friday, October 2 with post season dates set for November 13 through November 22.  Football teams will be allowed to have its traditional Thanksgiving Day games.

“High school sports are school-based, so we need to first ensure all is in order with the opening of our schools,” says Colleen Maguire, NJSIAA chief operating officer. “After that, we can begin playing sports.

"To be clear, our goal is to return to play – while making sure that health, safety, emotional well-being, and academics come first. We have a different model than some other types of programs that are far smaller in scale and operate independently. We have a duty to ensure that New Jersey’s schools and their more than 1.5 million students and teachers, including 283,000 high school student-athletes, can first return to school and their academics, and then participate in extracurricular activities like sports.”

With the input of statewide athletic directors, the NJSIAA Sports Advisory Task Force identified eight guiding principles that will drive the decision-making process. They include: ensuring the health and safety of all student-athletes; re-engaging all student-athletes as soon as possible for their social, emotional and mental well-being; maximizing participation across all sports and all student-athletes; keeping competition as local as possible for as long as possible; developing multiple return to play models to minimize the risk of a canceled season; maintaining the ability to pivot to back-up plans when deemed necessary; minimizing potential impact on the spring season; and minimizing the importance of postseason, statewide championships.

The NJSIAA said they will "strive to open postseason participation to any team wishing to participate. As with the regular season, the postseason will remain local, meaning a sectional championship or less. A seeding committee will be used by every sport in order to remove the reliance on power points, standings, and overall record."

“By reducing the length of the season, student-athletes will have the opportunity for participation – but will also have more time to focus on their academic requirements,” says NJSIAA President Steve Shohfi. “A reduced season will naturally lead to a reduced amount of competition, which minimizes the risk of infection through exposure to many different teams and schools.” 

The NJSIAA strongly encouraged local scholastic leagues and conferences to revise schedules to emphasize local competition and minimize the number of different schools that come in contact with each other. Smaller divisions of schools for competition purposes is encouraged in order to facilitate communications and scheduling.

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