COVID-19 affects about two-thirds of Big Central teams in inaugural season, one quarter of games

by Mike Pavlichko

There’s still a week to go in the “regular season,” but so far through Week 5 action, as many as 34 of 138 games in the Big Central appear to have been affected by COVID-19 cases or precautions.

Central Jersey Sports Radio took a look at the entire revised schedule that was issued by the Big Central following the NJSIAA’s decision to allow a shortened six-week regular season, along with a two-week postseason.

Even though some Week 6 games have already been affected, and others may be in jeopardy, the final week of the regular season was not factored into the research because the games haven’t been played yet.

The numbers show about 25 percent of games scheduled to be played were affected by COVID-19 cases or precautions. These numbers do not take into account cancellations that are not COVID-related, nor the cancellations of games involving Piscataway or Carteret.

Those districts shut down fall sports before the season. The research into the numbers here is intended to look at how actual cases in schools affected the schedule. Some cancellations were due not necessarily due to cases themselves, but due to precaution.

Johnson cancelled its season opener with Roselle because Johnson had recently scrimmaged Scotch Plains-Fanwood, which had 2 cases in the district. (School officials did not say if the cases involved members of the football team, or even the high school.)

There were some non-COVID cancellations, too, like Highland Park – which shut down its season before they got underway due to a lack of numbers – and JP Stevens – which had injury issues and an ensuing lack of numbers that forced them to call off their game with Old Bridge in Week 4.

JP Stevens cancelled a game two weeks ago with Old Bridge because injuries had left them with so few players they felt it was unsafe to play the Knights. Warren Hills opted not to play a league game at Rahway earlier in the season, and both teams found new opponents.

Overall, 39 of 58 teams that played this year in the Big Central (taking out Piscataway and Carteret) were affected in one way or another by COVID.

The division hit the hardest was Division 5D, where 9 of 15 games were affected. Westfield took the brunt of it, having only managed two games in five weeks due to two separate COVID-related issues in the district. They’ve only managed to play Bridgewater-Raritan and St. Joseph-Metuchen, and are 0-2.

Ridge, meanwhile, also was greatly affected, perhaps more than any other team, but was able to reschedule games. After soundly beating Bridgewater in their opener, their Week 2 game at Elizabeth was cancelled due to a COVID situation with their opponent. They picked up Cranford and won.

Week 3 opponent St. Joe’s had a COVID shutdown, and Ridge picked up Union two weeks early and won. Week 4 opponent Westfield was shutdown, so the Red Devils picked up Elizabeth, whom they beat. Ridge played St. Joe’s this weekend, the original date of the Union game. The Red Devils also won, while Union blanked Elizabeth, a game originally scheduled two weeks prior but which took a hit because of COVID at Elizabeth.

Every team in Division 1B was affected by Highland Park not playing the season, but Dunellen so far has gotten by unscathed, playing all its other four games, and picking up a Week 5 game against independent Pingry, which the Destroyers lost by a touchdown, their closest defeat all season by far.

The least affected division was 5B. After factoring out Piscataway, none of the remaining five teams – New Brunswick, Edison, Sayreville, South Brunswick or Franklin – lost any games to COVID. And everyone but Franklin was able to schedule a replacement for the Chiefs.

Interestingly, the division went 3-1 against those replacements, with New Brunswick beating Immaculata, Edison beating Summit this weekend, and North Brunswick beating state-ranked Passaic Tech in what was PCTI’s first game of the season after a two-week COVID shutdown to start the year.

Division 1A also did well. Four of the six teams were completely unaffected by COVID in the first five weeks: Voorhees, Delaware Valley, South Hunterdon and Bound Brook. Belvidere’s opener against Manville – which had COVID issues – was the only game scratched in-season. Manville’s crossover game against Highland Park this coming week got axed before the season started, and the Mustangs are still looking for an opponent – perhaps an NJIC team, we hear – in Week 6.

In all, 17 of the 58 schools in the Big Central conference – almost 30 percent of them – cancelled games due to COVID or concerns over COVID (such as having played or scrimmaged an opponent and later learning the opponent had at least one positive test).

The 19 schools to get away scot-free through the first five weeks – with their schedules entirely in tact – include: Voorhees, Delaware Valley, South Hunterdon, Bound Brook, Dunellen, North Plainfield, Spotswood, Hillside, Governor Livingston, Bernards, Phillipsburg, Hunterdon Central, Hillsborough, New Brunswick, Edison, Sayreville, North Brunswick, Franklin and Perth Amboy.

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