President Trump’s decree to extend the coronavirus stay-at-home/social distancing order through the end of April has put the NJSIAA high school sports season on life support.
That said, we are very positive at Diamond Nation and believe a season is to be had. It will take a bit of ingenuity to pull off and we know our friends at the NJSIAA, with the assistance of the state coaches Baseball Committee and athletic directors around the state, can make this work.
The NJSIAA is scheduled to meet on Wednesday via teleconference. All ears around the state will be keenly tuned in to see what is discussed in regard to salvaging the 2020 spring season.
High schools throughout New Jersey will remain shuttered through the end of April; meaning schools could not open before May 1, which is a Friday.
Let’s assume all goes well and high schools open on Monday, May 4. High school sports teams – and we are most concerned at Diamond Nation with baseball and softball – would then require a full week of practice to prepare for the season.
“Since we’ve had our six days already, perhaps the NJSIAA would reduce that requirement to three days,” suggests longtime Jackson coach Frank Malta, a physical education teacher at the Ocean County school.
Every single day matters in this scenario; so let’s assume the NJSIAA insists on six days of practice.
That would take us to a May 11 start date to the season. Under the old schedule, that would leave us with just two weeks of games prior to the start of the state tournament on Monday, May 25. That’s not a season. So, to make this work the season would have to be extended.
Complicating matters, the state baseball and softball finals are late already as the calendar falls this year. The Non-Public baseball state finals are scheduled for Wednesday, June 10 and the Public finals are set for Saturday, June 13, both dates at Veterans Park in Hamilton.
The question for schools is how long into June are they willing to extend the season and how many teams will be playing after the school year is over? Very few if that extension is just a week or two. Some schools close the second week of June, others not until the end of the third week or later. Diamond Nation neighbor Hunterdon Central, for example, graduates on June 23. Most non-public schools close earlier.
So the framework of a season and a state tournament schedule must be formulated by working backward. Let’s say we end the season with the NJSIAA state finals on Wednesday, June 24 (Non-Public) and Saturday, June 27 (Public). That would permit a 10-12 game regular season, more or less games depending on a school’s desire to schedule heavy or light.
Of course, getting on the field later than May 4 would be very bad. The NJSIAA would have to institute a game-total minimum, say eight, to qualify for the tournament.
“If we get to play any games at this point, the kids would be ecstatic,” says Malta, guiding what many believe to be a Top 10 team in the state. “Listening to my guys right now, they get it. They are frustrated and upset but none of them are saying this is unfair. They get the big picture. There are a lot bigger things going on and they see it every day.”
With a sincere appreciation for where we are and where we may or may not be going over the next month, we optimistically propose the following schedule for the 2020 baseball season.
BASEBALL REGULAR SEASON AND POST-SEASON DATES
First Practice: May 4 (no scrimmages unless NJSIAA waives the rule that requires six practices before first scrimmage).
Last Practice: May 9
Opening Day: May 11 (Regular season runs through June 6)
State Tournament Cutoff Date: June 4 (seeding June 5)
Round 1: June 8-10
Round 2: June 12
Round 3: June 16
Sectional Finals: June 19
State semis: June 22
State Finals: June 27
Round 1: June 12-13
Round 2: June 15-16
Round 3: June 19
Sectional Finals: June 22
State Finals: June 24
Final points: The travel and American Legion summer seasons would not be heavily impacted by this plan, more critical this year with the loss of at least part of the high school season. … There is a petition going around to permit a high school season during the summer. We don’t see that as realistically being approved by high schools around the state.
… A few major hurdles include reconfiguring each conference’s game schedules and scheduling umpires for those games. Also, in a condensed schedule in which teams will hope to play as many games as possible in a given week – there is no regulatory limit – there may not be enough umpires to go around to accommodate that wish.