EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ — The sports landscape will look very different in the fall compared to most autumns thanks to the adjustments and restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy stated last week that he was hopeful that high school sports would be able to proceed in the fall. Murphy said this at the championship game of the statewide Last Dance Baseball Tournament, at which he threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Trenton. In some ways, that tournament served as a dry run for the resumption of NJSIAA-sanctioned fall high school sports.

The NJSIAA recently released the Phase 2 Guidelines for high school teams returning to the field. These guidelines have been in place since July 27, after teams successfully completed Phase 1.

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Phase 2 allows for increased team activities as it pertains to skills and drills development and permits schools to use indoor facilities if approved by the school district. Once individual pods of student-athletes have successfully completed Phase 1, and providing that there has not been a significant change in health conditions indicating otherwise, progression to Phase 2 is medically appropriate. Larger groups of student-athletes are permitted during Phase 2 because the individual pods have worked out together without a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a two-week period.
 
Phase 2 allows the pods from phase 1 to be combined into a pod of 25-30 student-athletes. Student-athletes will be permitted to share sports equipment within their newly formed pod only. Limiting the sharing of equipment to pods will, as in Phase 1, help to control the spread of COVID-19. It is imperative that all sports equipment be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with applicable guidelines.

All of this leads up to a fall sports season that, if it does presumably get under way, will be shorter and start almost a month later than a normal scholastic fall season would.

The NJSIAA not only dictated a shortened fall season in which there would not be regular-season games until Oct. 1. That also has forced a reconfiguration of the summer calendar, which allows teams to be together in the summer until late August, but then not again until mid-September, after school has already started--if, or when, school does start.

In the Greater Middlesex Conference, local high school football programs are planning on playing a condensed six-game regular season. The East Brunswick football team is set to open at home against J.P. Stevens on Friday night, Oct. 2. The South Brunswick football team is scheduled to begin its slate that night at home against Perth Amboy.

The GMC has canceled plans to hold conference tournaments in any of its fall sports. One high school in the GMC, Carteret, has already canceled all of its fall sports seasons.

In statewide college sports, the New Jersey Athletic Conference, a Division-3 league with 10 in-state members, has canceled its upcoming fall sports seasons. The Ivy League, of which Princeton University is a member, has also called off fall sports.

The Big Ten Conference, which includes Rutgers University, will play in conference competition only. All Rutgers athletics venues will operate in accordance with the executive orders issued by Governor Murphy limiting outdoor gatherings to 500 people or fewer. All safety precautions will be in place for those individuals who will be in attendance.

That is also the case with pro sports in the Garden State. If the National Football League schedule kicks off on time in early September, the Jets and Giants will be playing home games in cavernous MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford without any paying customers.