by Mike Pavlichko
We’re just one week into high school basketball season, and things aren’t looking good for a number of area programs.
But it has nothing to do with making foul shots or turning the ball over too much.
It’s about COVID-19, and even Mother Nature, and now the NJSIAA is lending a hand.
The state’s high school athletics association says it will allow teams to schedule two four-game weeks this season, starting next week, NJSIAA Assistant Director Al Stumpf told Central Jersey Sports Radio Wednesday morning.
The loosening of scheduling restrictions is an effort to allow more makeup games in a tight season already shortened by COVID-19.
On the opening day of the season, last Tuesday, virtually the entire Skyland Conference saw its games get cancelled due to inclement weather. Much of the Greater Middlesex Conference – including Dunellen-Edison, Central Jersey Sports Radio’s opener – managed to play.
Other schools have been either hit by COVID, or through contact tracing are in quarantine, such as the Rutgers Prep boys and both the girls’ and boys’ teams at Gill St. Bernard’s. None of them have played a game yet. The Gill opens its season Thursday night when the Knights take on Hunterdon Central at 5:30 pm, in a game that can be heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio, presented by Bellamy & Son Paving.
The NJSIAA is not holding a state tournament this year and has has limited the number of games played overall to 15, including “postseason” tournaments by the leagues and conferences. But that wasn’t the issue.
With some teams having had two or three games cancelled already, working within the rest of the NJSIAA framework for scheduling this season would have been nearly impossible.
That’s because the rules limited teams to three games per week, no more than one game a day, and three games in a row (on back-to-back-to-back days, i.e. games on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) are not allowed.
That’s not much different from a normal year, where the only variation is that typically, teams are allowed one four-game week per season.
That wasn’t permitted this season, until today, when Stumpf alerted NJSIAA member schools of the change allowing two four-game weeks.
Bound Brook boys’ basketball coach Anthony Melesurgo raised the question on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, following a Tweet by Montogmery coach Kris Grundy about additional weather cancellations, asking whether the NJSIAA could have some leniency to allow as many games to be played this season as possible.
Asked whether any plans to loosen restrictions were in the works, NJSIAA Spokesman Mike Cherenson told CJSR in an email Tuesday afternoon: “As has been the case all year, if modifications to a schedule are necessary, we will announce at the appropriate time.”
Apparently that time came quickly.
Take a team that plays Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, like Bound Brook, for example. If a Tuesday game is cancelled due to weather, there are no real opportunities to make it up? They can’t play Wednesday or Friday because that would give them three games in a row, either Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday or Thursday-Friday-Saturday.
Teams also typically don’t play on Sunday, but if they did, that would violate the three-game per week cap, giving a team like the Crusaders games on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.
But with the loosened restrictions, a makeup could now be played on a Monday, or even a Sunday – though that generally isn’t preferred.
The NJSIAA “week” begins at 12:01 am Sunday.
There are only five weeks and five days in which to complete the season, which started on Tuesday, January 26th and will end on Saturday, March 6th. Eight days are already gone, with all of yesterday’s games (Tuesday, February 2nd) gone due to snow. More were cancelled today as well.
With the Skyland Conference guaranteeing three games to all teams in its postseason – a series of three eight-team pods – teams in the league would have 12 regular season games maximum. The Bound Brook boys have played one game, which means they can play 11 more before the postseason. They essentially have 25 days left in which to play them.
The Rutgers Prep boys and Gill St. Bernard’s boys and girls have played none. That leaves them with 25 days to play 12 games. Since they don’t play until Thursday, they could only fit in two this week, leaving them with 21 days in which to play nine games.
If there are any more cancellations, the next question is: could the season be extended beyond March 6th?
It would seem that extending the season would not affect any other sports, with the exception of perhaps gym availability for sports like gymnastics, girls’ volleyball and wrestling.
Bound Brook coach Anthony Melesurgo says he would be okay with his team playing in a junior high gym, for example, if that was the difference between getting in 10 or 11 games, or a “full” 15-game already COVID-shortened season.
Extending the season would not affect baseball, softball or other spring sports, for which the NJSIAA is focused on providing as “normal” a season as possible, since spring sports were entirely wiped out in 2021 by COVID-19.
According to the NJSIAA’s return-to-play guidelines, no spring sports can begin virtual contact with student-athletes before March 1. Actual practice for boys’ tennis doesn’t commence until March 26, while golf and all other Spring sports don’t start practice until April 1.
That would seem to allow basketball to continue at least into mid- or late-March without affecting spring sports.