The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association made a major announcement on Thursday morning, pushing back the start of the winter sports season well into 2021 and moving the wrestling season to “Season 3” beginning in March.

Under the final plan for winter sports issued by the NJSIAA’s Sports Advisory Task Force, the New Jersey high school wrestling season will now begin with practices on March 1 with competition beginning on March 16. The season will conclude on April 24. Wrestling and all other winter sports were scheduled to begin practice on Dec. 3 with regular-season competition beginning on Dec. 21 and concluding on Feb. 3. There was to be a 12-day postseason running from Feb. 5 to Feb. 17.

Ice hockey, boys and girls basketball, fencing, bowling, swimming and winter track will all begin later in the winter season (also known as Season 2 under the NJSIAA’s Return to Play guidelines) and will not have any NJSIAA-sponsored postseason events. A possible NJSIAA-sponsored postseason for Season 3 sports – wrestling, gymnastics and girls volleyball – is under consideration and will be determined at a later date.

Wrestling competition will be limited to three events per week with a maximum of 15 events during the season, which includes league or conference tournaments. Teams can only compete in one event per day, so tri and quad meets will not be permitted. Currently, all competition will be limited to two teams. The NJSIAA said that ruling is subject to change and a decision will be finalized on that closer to the start of the season, but as of now, there will be no tournaments.

There will be no spectators allowed during Season 3 sports. On Nov. 16, Gov. Phil Murphy issued Executive Order 196 which limits the number of people permitted at both indoor and outdoor sporting events. Under the order, indoor practices and competitions are limited to 10 people except in the case where the number of people necessary for the practice or game, such as players, coaches and referees, is greater than 10. In these instances, the room capacity will be capped at 25 percent or 150 people, whichever is less.

Out-of-state competition for indoor sports continues to be banned as per Murphy’s Executive Order 194.

As for transfer student-athletes, anyone who transfers after Nov. 1 will not be eligible for participation in Season 3 sports until March 29. Anyone who transferred between March 16, 2020, and Nov. 1, 2020, are not subject to the transfer sit period of 30 days.

Under the former plan for wrestling, the NJSIAA was not going to sponsor an individual state tournament, citing an elimination of tournaments and the length of the season. This prompted an outcry from the wrestling community, who argued that a wrestling season without the individual state tournament was too drastic a move to make even with competition limits due to COVID-19. Several wrestling coaches pushed for the sport to be moved to Season 3 to increase the possibility of holding a 2021 state tournament.

“We remain keenly focused on providing New Jersey’s student-athletes with the opportunity to participate in sports, and given current health data and modeling, we believe pushing the schedules back ensures the best opportunity for our kids,” said Colleen Maguire, the NJSIAA’s COO. “The staggered winter schedule is based on feedback from health officials, anticipated capacity limitations as well as the availability of facilities which are used by many of our winter sports. The hockey schedule remains unchanged due to contractual obligations with rinks and the potential for significant financial repercussions associated with rescheduling ice time.”

In a memo sent to NJSIAA member schools, the NJSIAA explained wrestling’s move to Season 3. Since it is considered a high-risk indoor sport per the New Jersey Department of Health’s Guidance for Sports Activities and based on feedback from health officials and member schools, the decision was made to postpone wrestling to Season 3.

“New Jersey should be proud of its student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and all those who make high school sports possible,” Maguire added. “During our fall season, NJSIAA member schools successfully engaged approximately 80,000 student-athletes across 5 sports.  We will continue working hard to make the winter and spring seasons a success as well.   As was the case in the fall, the potential for play is ultimately based on everyone working together to keep our communities safe and healthy.”

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