Gov. Murphy announced an Executive Order to open batting cages, golf ranges, shooting ranges, horseback riding, private tennis clubs, and community gardens.
Proposed changes to the NJSIAA’s traditional high school sports calendar, such as moving the football season from the fall to the spring, have been submitted to the statewide athletics association, which currently has no plans to make any modifications.
“The NJSIAA enters the decision-making process with an open mind and welcomes input from its member schools,” reads an NJSIAA statement provided to USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey.
“Based on hundreds of years of combined experience among our committees, task forces, and leadership, all viable ideas will be considered and decisions will be made that are in the best interests of our student-athletes and member schools. At this stage, we will not comment on specific proposals.”
Neither Gov. Phil Murphy, nor NJSIAA officials, have made any decisions regarding a timeline or strategy for a safe return to scholastic sports competition, nor has Murphy determined whether students will return to physical school buildings for the 2020-21 academic year.
In the middle of March, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the spring sports season, which the NJSIAA officially canceled earlier this month on the same day Murphy announced schools would remain closed with remote learning to continue for the remainder of the academic year.
Earlier this week, the National Federation of High School Associations released a 16-page document designed to serve as a road map regarding the safe return to high school sports competition.
The national federation, in its recommendations to member associations, separated sports into three categories of risk – from low to high – and introduced a three-phase strategy for the resumption of practices and competition as guidelines for a return to safe play.
Each statewide athletics association, in concert with their respective state departments of health and education, and other authorities, will ultimately devise their own timeline and strategies for a return to play, with some regions getting back on the field more quickly than others.
New Jersey, which ranks second nationally in COVID-19 positive cases and coronavirus-related deaths, is expected to move more deliberately than other states.
The Alaska School Athletic Association, for example, announced Friday today it will resume “out-of-season” and “open facility” policies on June 1, provided coaches meet the approval of their school districts and operate any activities in accordance with local and state health mandates.
With football being placed in the high-risk category, some in New Jersey have speculated the sport would benefit from a move to the spring season. The NJSIAA has received at least one proposal regarding that move.
NJSIAA President Mary Liz Ivins said state officials will determine “the timing of our return to school,” adding “it’s important to keep in mind that going back to our school buildings won’t necessarily guarantee an immediate return of athletics.”
“It’s possible,” she said, “some sports will follow different schedules than others.”
All decisions regarding a return to play in New Jersey will be made through the collaborative efforts of the NJSIAA’s newly formed COVID-19 Medical Advisory Task Force, which will work with NJSIAA member schools, the State Departments of Health and Education, the national federation’s Sports Medical Advisory Committee and other leading authorities to provide the statewide athletics association with the best guidance to return student-athletes to the playing field as soon as safely possible.
The task force includes Dr. Damion Martins, team physician and director of Internal Medicine for the New York Jets, who is also a member of the NFL COVID Task Force, and Dr. Rob Franks, a team physician for USA wrestling and team consultant to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Football and wrestling are among the sports the national federation regards as high risk because they involve “close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants.”
“My primary goal is the safe return to interscholastic play as quickly as possible,” Ivins said. “We remain optimistic that school activities, including sports, will return in the fall – for students’ physical and mental well-being.”
Ivins said recommendations from the national federation’s sports advisory committee are being circulated and studied and teams of education and medical professionals from around the country – including experts in public health, sports medicine, pediatrics, and others – are developing return-to-school and return-to-play protocols that will ensure everyone a safe return both to school and play.
“The goal of the task force is to identify and implement both general and sports-specific modifications that will be required by NJSIAA member schools,” she said. “In the short-term, our efforts will be focused on returning the fall athletes to their sports for the 2020 season.”
The NJSIAA encourages student-athletes to continue maintaining virtual interaction with their coaches.
“For all those with a passion to return to play, we ask that you continue your efforts and follow all relevant guidelines, including social distancing and wearing of masks,” Ivins said.
“The fewer cases there are today, the greater the likelihood we will play in the fall.”