TRENTON, NJ - An executive order from Governor Phil Murphy and subsequent guidance from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) has paved the way for prep winter sports to begin practicing in early December and playing games later that month.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, practice that involves contact and indoor sports scrimmages will once again be possible as Executive Order No. 187 allows for sports to resume activities inside defined as “medium risk” and “high risk” by the New Jersey Department of Health’s 'Guidance for Sports Activities'. The Guidance also outlines a number of protocols that should be in place, including screenings for athletes, coaches, and staff, limitations on equipment sharing and the need to for disinfect and sanitize surfaces and equipment. 

The sports include hockey, basketball, cheerleading, group dance, rugby, boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo, and wrestling.

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Prior to the order, Murphy had allowed a number of athletics to play or conduct their practices outdoors - while officials continue to report a surge in new cases. As of Tuesday, the Garden State has confirmed nearly 1,000 more positive coronavirus cases (993), seven more deaths and 649 people requiring hospitalization statewide. The state of 9 million has now totaled at least 215,085 cases, 14,394 confirmed deaths and another 1,788 “probable” deaths since the outbreak began in March.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for our student-athletes, support staff, and school communities,” said Murphy. “After consulting stakeholders and medical experts, we have concluded that, with proper public health and safety protocols in place, indoor sports may now resume in a way that protects players, coaches, and staff.”    

Under the Executive Order, the number of people permitted at a practice or competition will be limited to 25% of the capacity of the space in which the event takes place, with such limit not to exceed 25 persons or be less than 10 persons. However, if the number of individuals who are necessary for the practice or competition, such as players, coaches and referees, is greater than 25 persons, the practice or competition may proceed as long as no individuals are present who are not necessary for the event. If this exception applies, the number of individuals at the event still may not exceed 25% of the capacity of the room or 150 persons, whichever is less.

"[If] the number of individuals who are necessary for practice or competition, such as players, coaches, and referees, exceeds 25, the practice or competition may proceed if no unnecessary individuals such as spectators are present," the governors' office said in a statement.

With the above exception, the order mandates that a practice and games cannot surpass 150 people.

The NJSIAA Sports Advisory Task Force, in a memo to its Member Schools on October 13, issued the following information via a 'Return-to-Play -- Season 2 Update':

Season Dates

Season 2 will start practice on Thursday, December 3, 2020. Regular season competition will begin Monday, December 21, 2020, and end on Wednesday, February 3, 2021. NJSIAA will host post-season competition from Friday, February 5, 2021 through Wednesday, February 17, 2021.

Game Limitations

Competition in all sports will be limited to two events per week; however, two three-game weeks will be permitted. The total maximum events for all sports will be 15 events during the regular season. This total represents all games played, including in regular season tournaments or other events, if permitted.

Multi-Team / Multi-Game/Invitational Events

Currently, all competition will be limited to two teams only, but this is subject to change. The NJ DOH is aware of the nature of certain competition specific to our winter sports (i.e., basketball holiday tournaments, wrestling quad meets, and invitational meets) and will continue to monitor and advise as to what may or may not be permissible; however, we expect that decisions on expanding the scope of participants and/or teams for events will not be made until closer to the start of the season, or even during the season.

Scrimmages

Schools will have the opportunity to participate in one pre-season scrimmage, preferably with a neighboring school. When possible, schools are encouraged to participate in intra-squad scrimmages and utilize officials to provide additional preseason preparation.

Post-Season

The NJSIAA will strive to open post-season participation to any school wishing to participate. Depending on the sport, the post-season will be structured regionally based on counties or based on NJSIAA Sections. The 2019 – 2020 classifications will be relied on if Sectional championships are hosted.

Seeding committees will be convened for each sport in order to reduce the reliance on power points and other ranking systems. Objective data may be reviewed by the seeding committee, but it may also consider school location and other criteria.

Out-of-State Competition

Out-of-state competition is prohibited, unless a waiver is granted for exceptional circumstances.

Transfers

Any student-athlete that is subject to a transfer sit-period will be eligible for participation on Monday, January 11, 2021. This eligibility date is applicable to every winter sport. As a reminder, those student- athletes that transferred between March 16, 2020 and November 1, 2020 are not subject to the transfer sit- period. If a student-athlete transfers after November 1, 2020, the student-athlete shall be ineligible to participate for a period of 30 calendar days, or one half of the maximum number of games being played, whichever is less.

Spectators

As is explained above, spectators will be subject to the capacity limitations established by Executive Order 187. NJSIAA will continue its discussions with the Governor’s office and the NJ DOH and will update its guidance in this regard if capacity limitations are amended.