OPINION: NJSIAA should allow season extension if snow delays postseason games

The NJSIAA has shown immense flexibility since the start of the school year, doing everything it can to give kids a chance to play the sports they love. That’s all anyone really asked.

A few districts chose not to play, and that’s their perogative. But the decision was left up to them. And that’s another sign of the “new” NJSIAA.

Even in this truncated 40-day high school basketball season, the NJSIAA loosened restrictions on how many games can be played in a week, becoming even more flexible than a typical non-COVID season by allowing two four-game weeks in the regular season. Generally, one such week is allowed.

The problem is, no one has been able to take advantage yet.

According to NJ.com’s standings on Feb. 17 at 10:30 pm, in the Greater Middlesex Conference, on Day 23 of the season – that’s three weeks and change for the math-challenged – only 27 of 61 teams have played eight or nine games, meaning no one is averaging three or more games per week.

On the boys’ side, 11 of 30 teams have played more than seven games, while 16 of 30 have done so on the girls’ side. Only 12 have played fewer than 6.

In the Skyland Conference, as we say, “fugghedaboutit!” Only 11 of the 41 teams overall have even played seven games. None have played more than seven.

In fact, on the boys’ side, 14 of the 24 teams have managed fewer than six games. That’s less than two games a week.

On the girls’ side, 10 of the 27 haven’t gotten to the six-game plateau.

This week, NJSIAA Assistant Director for Basketball Tony Maselli told Central Jersey Sports Radio that “at this point no extensions” are planned. The key words there are “at this point,” so anything is possible after we get more snow dumped on us tomorrow.

There are calls from some to extend the season, at least by a few days, due to all the snow that has fallen, affecting the schedule even more, like it really needed it, already looking like Swiss cheese due to COVID-19 stoppages all over the place. Bound Brook head coach Anthony Melesurgo has been among the most vocal on social media.

So here’s a good compromise – if it actually comes to that: the NJSIAA should extend the season, but only to allow postseason play to wrap up.

Look, there’s no state tournament, and I get that. Based on the widely-varying amounts of games played, massive amounts of games missed, lack of comparable schedules that make even county postseason scheduling an arduous task, not having the state tournament, with all the extended travel, was probably the way to go.

But let’s let the kids play something – anything where a winner can call themselves champions. Championships are part of sports.

Otherwise, we’re just playing scrimmages.

So here’s what the NJSIAA should tell its 15 basketball leagues and conferences across the state: “You can’t push back your postseason to get in more regular season games, but if snow – key word: snow, not COVID – affects your postseason tournament, you can go past March 6 to finish it.”

Who knows next week’s forecast? Who knows tomorrow’s forecast? Remember that historic ice storm we were supposed to get Monday night? Exactly.

But let’s not take the chance that we could start yet another postseason and have to shut it down because of a date on the calendar.

We already did that last year when COVID hit. Let’s not yank another chance at a championship from these kids.

Let the postseason finish, regardless of Old Man Winter.

OPINION: Why now is the right time to allow limited fans at H.S. basketball games

The news broke on NJ.com shortly after flip-off (no tip-offs!) of our high school basketball game last night between No. 6 Colonia and Edison. The Eagles had finished their Senior Night activities, but no parents were anywhere to be found.

In fact, the game was delayed a bit so that the masked parents – who didn’t even bother to take off their coats, that’s how quick they were in and out of the gym – could get home in time to watch and listen to the live stream of the game.

NJ.com reported that Governor Murphy could announce today that limited fans – possibly with an emphasis or priority on parents of seniors – would be allowed at high school basketball games in New Jersey.

The news was not a complete surprise. The day before the regular season started on January 25th, Murphy hinted that he was leaning in that direction “soon,” though didn’t commit to a policy or timetable.

Fans have been missing from high school basketball games across New Jersey, but a few two-dimensional ones – even a couple furry family members – were present at last night’s girls’ basketball home game against Edison.

Central Jersey Sports Radio will be on the Governor’s virtual COVID briefing today to hear the news, if indeed it does get announced today. (Murphy is holding the call virtually after he went into self-quarantine earlier this week following a positive COVID test by one of his family members; the Governor himself has tested negative.)

I say, it’s about time. And the Governor probably has seen enough feedback from the last few weeks to realize it’s possible.

What also helps is that the people involved in this decision-making/feedback process are parents. The Governor has kids who play high school sports, as does NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire. And the Murphy has sat at the dais during COVID with Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who is also the head football coach at Hackensack.

Here are three people so closely connected to high school sports, that they get it. They are not handing down rules from some ivory tower,

But are they too close? Are they blinded by the emotion of wanting to see their kids play in person so much that they ignore the science?

Not by a long shot.

What the Governor likely will propose is some sort of highly limited capacity. He’s also talked about prioritizing senior parents. But think about it: high school teams are capped at 14 varsity players.

Let’s say parents are only allowed at home games. Assuming every parent could make every game, that’s a maximum 28 parents. But there are single parents, some who work, and some who have other things going on. So we’re probably talking 14 to 28 extra people in a gym.

Most high school gyms can fit at least a couple hundred fans. Many are larger. I’ve heard the question “Who is going to monitor this? How will we make sure they wear masks?”

It’s certainly easier than it was during football season, where stadiums are much larger and much more spread out.

And the timing – I mean, it could be better – but it’s not bad.

The numbers are coming down in New Jersey. They’re better here than in a lot of states.

They’re far from good, of course. And while we still need to take precautions – wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands often – there’s no reason people acting reasonably can”t come into a high school gym.

Take a look around: New York City sports arenas will be opening to very small capacities in just over a week. Of course, fans will be required to show proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours, but we’re also talking about 2,000 fans, who likely will have a beer (or two or three) and might be acting rowdy. That won’t be the case with 20 or so high school parents.

I’ve been at four high school basketball games since the start of the season. It was sad to see Edison parents show up for Senior Night, be honored, then have to leave to go home to watch their sons play on YouTube because they’re not allowed in the gym.

But the main thing is this: only three weeks remain in Season 2, for high school basketball. Three weeks, and only very limited opportunities for parents to see their sons and daughters – especially their senior sons and daughters – take the court.

Time is running out faster than we can get a wrap around COVID-19.

The mantra from student-athletes and parents for months had been “Let ‘Em Play.”

Now, I say, “Let ‘Em Watch.” Just maybe not all of them at the same time.

NJSIAA loosens schedule restrictions to allow basketball makeups following double-whammy of COVID, Mother Nature

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.

Continue reading “NJSIAA loosens schedule restrictions to allow basketball makeups following double-whammy of COVID, Mother Nature”

Bound Brook’s Derevjanik named NFHS girls basketball Coach of the Year in NJ

by Mike Pavlichko

Five sectional titles in a row has to amount for something.

And this week, the recognition came for Bound Brook girls basketball coach Jen Derevjanik: she was named Girls Basketball Coach of the Year in New Jersey by NFHS, the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Derevjanik is about to begin her seventh season as head coach of the Crusaders, who have won the last five Central Jersey Group One championships in a row. They are 136-39 under her tenure.

Not bad for a program that hadn’t had a winning season in more than a decade. That 11-15 record in her first season? Just a stepping stone en route to becoming one of Somerset County’s elite programs.

The Bound Brook girls’ basketball team celebrates its 2020 Central Jersey Group 1 title. The Lady Crusaders took the crown with a 56-41 road win against neighboring Middlesex, on March 10, 2020. (Source: Twitter)

Last year, just a win away from a Group 1 title, Bound Brook’s quest was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, which ended the state tournament just after their 48-32 Group 1 semifinal win over Woodbury. The Lady Crusaders would have faced North 1 champ Cresskill in the semifinals.

The recognition by the NFHS also means recognition by the NJSIAA, which submits nominees to NFHS, according to Bound Brook Athletic Director Jeffrey Steele. He said he was notified of the honor this week, and quickly arranged for the team to help her celebrate.

Bound Brook will be one of the first two girls basketball teams in the area to be broadcast on Central Jersey Sports Radio this coming week, when the Lady Crusaders entertain Manville at 5:30 pm. Click here to listen live.

Derevjanik – who played collegiately at George Mason, and after the playing days was an assistant at Wagner College – has a pro pedigree. She played professionally in Europe for seven seasons, and spent five years in the WNBA: two of them with the Connecticut Sun alongside Olympian Lindsay Whelan, followed by three years in Phoenix, where she won a WNBA Championship as a teammate of Diana Taurasi.

HS basketball will look very different in 2020: here are the new rules and recommendations

“Join us for tip-off time at … wait a sec, make that, join us for the coin-toss at 7 pm.”

Coin toss?


It’ll take some getting used to for 2020, but high school basketball in the era of COVID-19 won’t include an opening tip off.

Instead, there will be a coin toss.

It’s part of myriad rules changes by the National Federation of State High School Associations – also known as NFHS – whose regulations the NJSIAA follows. They are aimed at protecting officials, many of whom are older and may be at greater risk for contracting COVID-19, and having more serious health complications.

Jack Baum, Skyland Conference Assignor of Officials – who also assigns referees for the state tournament and Tournament of Champions – was involved in helping the NJSIAA outline the changes for referees, coaches and student-athletes.

Click below to listen to Jack Baum give a thorough explanation on the NFHS changes, and how they will affect high school basketball in New Jersey this season:

Specifically, rule modification 6-2-2 – “Elimination of the Jump Ball Procedure” – stipulates that the jump ball to start a game will be eliminated, and that “Choice of first possession of the ball [goes] to the team winning a coin toss, called by the visiting team.”

From there, standard rules apply regarding the alternating possession arrow. So, if Team A wins the toss and elects to start with the ball, the arrow would go to Team B once the throw-in takes place, much like the typical held ball situation.

Overtime periods would begin with the team that has possession based on the arrow inbounding the ball.

Click here for the complete NJSIAA document regarding COVID-19 related rule and procedure changes for 2021 high school basketball.

The other major change is that officials are “not required to touch (or handle) the ball prior to a throw-in or free throw,” according to a modification of rule 2.7.2.

Inotherwords, when a foul occurs, instead of the ball being handed to the official by whatever player has it, the players on the team that was fouled would retrieve the ball, and give it directly to to the player who is awarded foul shots, or the player chosen to inbound the ball.

Typically, the ball is “at the disposal” of the player when they get it from the referee. But, in this case – either at the foul line or on an inbound – the player may have the ball, but the official will present the “stop clock” signal – their hand extended with an open palm – followed by “one short blast of the whistle.” This would signal play can begin, and the official would begin the appropriate count: five seconds for either a free-throw or inbound. Officials also may use verbal cues.

Of note is the fact that it is “not required,” that officials touch the ball during the game, but they would be permitted to if they wanted to. Both Baum and Tony Maselli – NJSIAA Assistant Director in charge of officials – confirmed to Central Jersey Sports Radio that this is the case; it’s up to the discretion of the officials.

The situation is similar for an out-of-bounds play or a time out. If the ball goes out of bounds off Team A, then Team B should retrieve the ball and prepare for an inbound play. The same goes for the inbounding the ball at the start of a quarter; the team responsible for inbounding should retrieve the ball and place it at the spot for the inbound.

Similarly, for time outs, if Team A has the ball, and calls time out, Team A should place the ball at the spot to inbound, then return to its bench area.

Other changes include:

  • Only one player has to report to the “X” at the scorer’s table for a substitution
  • Benches may be located on opposite sidelines, and in those cases should be diagonally across from each other.
  • Teams across the court from the scorer’s table would also have a substitution “X” on their side of the floor, and game officials would be required to visually scan for subs before resuming play.
  • Referees can verbally and visually confirm rosters and starters with the scorekeeper, but “will not touch books, pens/pencils, or be required to sign the scorer’s book.”
  • Pre-game conferences with teams will be limited to one official, the head coaches, and one captain from each team, during which the coin toss will be held. There will be no handshakes before or after.
  • Coaches and students on the bench or sidelines must wear face coverings. There are exceptions for health reasons, extreme heat, or “high intensity aerobic or anaerobic activities,” which would include those playing in the game and referees.
  • Neck gaiters are allowed, but not recommended for indoors. Colors need not necessarily match uniform colors, according to Baum.

Click below for a full presentation on the rules changes and rule interpretations shared with NJSIAA officials for the 2021 basketball season:

Profit in a pandemic? Maguire says NJSIAA pulled through the fall in the black

It would be quite the understatement to say many Garden State businesses continue to struggle ten months after the COVID-19 pandemic began taking a hold in New Jersey.

Though the NJSIAA had to cancel last Winter’s postseason events and the entire Spring season, it returned with a plan to play high school sports this fall, with the blessing of the Governor.

(It didn’t go quite that smoothly in Pennsylvania.)

But even without its big fall events – regional championship at Met Life Stadium, and whatever else would have come its way this football season – the NJSIAA turned a profit.

Executive Director Colleen Maguire – who has a financial background prior to joining the NJSIAA – briefed the Executive Committee Wednesday on the association’s financial footing, which is better than you might think. Maguire said the NJSIAA has made about $100,000 in profit so far this school year.

What’s the outlook for the rest of the year? Here’s Maguire’s full report from Wednesday’s call:

Tuesday Night Quarterback-Episode 12: The Vote (Special Edition)

On a special edition of the “Tuesday Night Quarterback,” Mike Pavlichko takes a deeper dive into Wednesday’s historic landslide vote to remove language from the NJSIAA’s constitution that prohibited state championships in football. The move paves the way for public school group champions to be crowned by way of a five-week playoff season as early as 2022.

Dom Savino joins Mike to discuss the vote and what it means for high school football, particularly as it relates to the Big Central Conference. Mike is then joined by several guests to discuss the meaning of the vote:

  • Hillsborough head coach and NJSIAA Executive Committee member Kevin Carty Jr.
  • Hackensack head coach, NJSIAA Executive Committee member and NJ State Assembly Deputy Speaker Benjie Wimberly (D-35)
  • Former East Brunswick head coach, two-time state champ and MyCentralJersey.com football analyst Marcus Borden

Marcus Borden – winner of two titles – says group champs won’t cheapen sectional crowns

Five years after East Brunswick beat Jackson to win its first state sectional title under Marcus Borden, the Bears were at it again.

In the snow at the College of New Jersey, they took home another Central Jersey Group IV title, beating Brick Memorial 9-0.

For a coach who remembers just about every play of every game he’s ever coached in (spend some time with him and you’ll see what I mean) that game especially sticks out.

With the NJSIAA membership voting Wednesday to allow public group championships by a large margin – 318-12, with six abstentions – some have worried it could make sectional titles less relevant.

Just don’t put Borden in that category. Listen below to his conversation with Central Jersey Sports Radio about the NJSIAA’s historic vote, and his own past efforts to get New Jersey to play to group titles:

NJSIAA membership votes to allow football state championships; now the real work begins

by Mike Pavlichko

UPDATED with a statement from NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire.

A big hurdle has been cleared in New Jersey’s push to allow state championships in high school football.

At its Executive Committee meeting Wednesday, the NJSIAA announced that a measure to eliminate language from its own Constitution saying “no state championships, however, shall be declared in football” passed by a wide margin: 318-12, with six abstentions.

Ultimately 94.6 percent of the 336 schools that voted said “yes.”

It was widely expected the measure would get the OK from NJSIAA membership. An informal survey of a majority of Big Central Conference schools after the vote last week showed 37 schools that responded either had voted or planned to vote in favor of the measure to remove the language, while only two voted against the proposal.

“Our members have spoken and I applaud their decision,” NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire said in a statement. “Now it is time to get to work on a plan that will bring a true state champion in high school football to reality.”

New Jersey and New York are the only states in the country that don’t play the postseason all the way down to group championships.

But, as Maguire alluded to, actually playing to state champions is not a done deal just yet.

In effect, the vote is an approval of the idea in concept; it only eliminates language that prevented public schools from playing group championships.

Now, the membership must agree on the best way to do that.

Of course, the Football Leagues and Conferences Committee – which was responsible for Step One, already has Step Two ready to go, as outlined in a memo from Maguire, which can be found here. If approved, it would go into effect for the 2022 football season.

The Big Central Conference’s representatives on the committee are Big Central President and Brearley Athletic Director/Head Football Coach Soctt Miller, as well as Colonia Athletic Director Ben LaSala.

The plan would add an extra week of games to the postseason, allowing for five weeks of playoffs (the typical three sectional weeks, plus group semifinals and finals). But it would “backtime” the season so that the group championships would always be scheduled the week after Thanksgiving. The start of the season would be determined by counting back from Thanksgiving.

The plan is thought to address several key issues:

  • It allows for group champions to be crowned in public schools. Some consider the lack of true “state champions” a detriment to New Jersey football, which otherwise is some of the best in the nation
  • It does not add extra weeks on the back end of the season, avoiding additional conflicts for football players who participate in Winter sports. Many feared an additional week of playoffs would further disrupt football players who also participate in sports like basketball or wrestling.
  • It allows schools that play on Thanksgiving to continue with those games, without affecting the playoff schedule. Many schools with big rivalry games – like Phillipsburg has with Easton – did not want to be forced to choose between the playoffs or their Turkey Day games.

When could it all be official? By June, according to Maguire’s December 15th memo, which also fully outlined the proposal, and can be found here. The process would be started this Friday.

A proposal from the working group will be submitted to NJSIAA by Friday, January 15, 2021. The Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday, January 28, 2021. If the proposal is endorsed by the Advisory Committee, then the members of this working group will present their proposal at two sectional meetings to solicit further feedback. These sectional meetings will be scheduled at a later date,  but we anticipate that they will be held in either March or April. The final form and substance of the  proposal will be subject to approval by the Executive Committee at its meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021

According to the memo, final approval would come at the NJSIAA’s Annual Meeting, which was rescheduled this year from the first Monday in May (per NJSIAA bylaws) to June 7th.

It’s clear from the vote on Article IX the vast majority of NJSIAA schools approve of the idea of playing to state champions. The next challenge is getting everyone to agree on how to do it.

Perth Amboy is second Middlesex County school to bow out of Winter Sports

by Mike Pavlichko

On the heels of Carteret’s decision last week to cancel all early Winter season sports – with the exception of wrestling, slated to start practicing in March – Perth Amboy has become the second Middlesex County district in less than a week to do so, cancelling all sports in the NJSIAA’s “Season 2.”

In a letter to the community posted on the Perth Amboy district website Monday, Superintendent David Roman announced that due to an increase in COVID cases in the community, the district would extend is remote learning until the end of the third marking period, which ends on Tuesday, April 20th.

As part of that announcement, Roman wrote that “due to the uncertainty of this pandemic, and the health risk it may case to our students and staff at this time, all winter sports will be cancelled.”

He added, “We will re-assess the status of spring sports as we get closer to that time.”

Carteret and Piscataway had cancelled fall sports this school year, but while Carteret will remain on the sidelines in the winter – with the exception, so far, of wrestling – Piscataway is set to play.

Perth Amboy played sports in the fall.

Some districts, like Old Bridge and North Brunswick, have been holding outdoor basketball practices to lessen time spend indoors and attempt to mitigate the risks of COVID transmission in such settings.

Middlesex has delayed practice by a week to January 19th, meaning their basketball programs would miss the first week of the season, which starts January 26th, in order to continue their preseasons.