Gov. Christie Refuses to Sign Cooperative High School Sports Bill Before Leaving Office

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SPFHS Athletic Director Ryan Miller Credits: John Mooney
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TRENTON, NJ  – A proposed bill to allow school districts with multiple high schools to “co-op” in all sports based on participation or financial issues was placed on the "action not taken:" list by outgoing Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie will “pocket veto” the bill, by placing it on an “action not taken list” prior to leaving office on Tuesday, according to a report by Greg Tufaro of MyCentralJersey.com.

“NJSIAA remains hopeful that the bills will not become law and the rules of high school sports continue – as it has been for 99 years -- to be made by the member schools,” NJSIAA Executive Director Larry White said in a statement on Monday.

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For the bill to pass now, it will have to be re-introduced to the new assembly and senate. Should it pass through again, the bill would go to Gov. Phil Murphy.

Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano saw the bill passed through the state’s legislative branches on January 8.

According to many reports last week, Christie was expected to sign the bill before the noon deadline on Tuesday. However, the NJSIAA used various outreach methods to garner opposition to the bill, including op-eds written by White and emails to all high school and school district administrators. Each message asked the recipient to contact Christie’s office.

The bill stemmed from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North’s inability to field a full varsity football team this past fall. The school district petitioned the NJSIAA to allow the school to co-op with its sister school, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South. However, the state’s governing body for high school sports’ executive committee denied the request, citing its constitution and by-laws. (West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North instead played a junior varsity schedule.)

"I am not in favor of the bill; there's too much opportunity for the 28 school districts with multiple high schools to create 'All Star' teams, and if mismanaged could actually reduce opportunity for student athletes," said Ryan Miller, athletic director of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School. "Imagine if a three high school district without a participation concern dropped to one Varsity team per sport... in a sport like football that can carry as many as 80 students, 160 of them would be without a team."

At the NJSIAA’s annual business meeting in December, the entire NJSIAA membership passed West Windsor-Plainsboro School District’s rule proposal to allow future co-ops in football. Schools that did decide to co-op would be ineligible for post-season play, according to rule change.

West Windsor-Plainsboro superintendent David Aderhold expressed his disappointment in Christie through a series of tweets on Monday.

“How is denying students the right to play sports a victory?” Aderhold said. “How could that be the values of the governing sports authority? If the NJSIAA thinks we’re going to stop fighting for a change they’ve got another thing coming.”

According to White, the NJSIAA was blindsided by Benson and Quijano bill. White said in several released statements over the past couple of weeks that he, and the rest of the NJSIAA, thought the “co-op issue” was behind them.

In a press release after the bill passed through the state legislature, Quijano said, “All students within a school district should have equal access to extracurricular programs regardless of which school in the district they attend. This bill is just plain old common sense.”

HockeyClan.com reporter John Christian Hageny uncovered what could be considered wide spread abuse of the co-op rule as it relates to high school hockey in New Jersey.

According to Hageny, New Jersey hockey coaches have formed co-ops with other schools during “low-talent” seasons to increase championship potential, instead of giving local players the opportunity to play and grow their skills.

This is the exact reason why the NJSIAA feared that school districts would take advantage of the proposed bill and actually limit playing opportunities, according to White’s previous statements.

“For those living within one of 20 school districts with multiple high schools, the proposed legislation could close the door to playing opportunities for your kids,” White said in an op-ed prior to the bill passing through the legislature. “For those residing outside one of the aforementioned school districts, this legislation will give those 20 districts authority and powers you simply do not have, as they expose your children to unfair competition, all without oversight or review.”

The New Jersey Democrats Assembly Majority Office could not be reached for comment as of press time.

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