The high school fall sports season will start a month later than normal and will emphasize local competition, according to an announcement today from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

The Robbinsville-based governing body for New Jersey school sports said that summer workouts for high school student-athletes can begin next week—on Monday, July 13—and continue until Aug. 28. All workouts must take a two-week break, from Aug. 29 through Sept. 13, with only virtual meetings allowed and only for fall sports teams.

The governing body for New Jersey school sports released its plan for the 2020 fall season on July 10, 2020.

Official practices for all fall sports may begin on Sept. 14, and competition will start Sept. 28 for girls’ tennis, Oct. 2 for football and Oct. 1 for all other sports except football.

Regular seasons will conclude on Oct. 23 for girls’ tennis, Nov. 7 for football and Nov. 12 for all other fall sports. Limited postseason play will run from Oct. 24 through Oct. 31 for girls’ tennis, and Nov. 13 through Nov. 22 for all other sports.

Schools that do not participate in the postseason may continue to play until Nov. 22, with the exception being Thanksgiving football games, which are allowed at each school’s discretion. No other fall sports competition will be allowed after Nov. 22.

“High school sports are school-based, so we need to first ensure all is in order with the opening of our schools,” says Colleen Maguire, NJSIAA chief operating officer. “After that, we can begin playing sports. To be clear, our goal is to return to play—while making sure that health, safety, emotional well-being, and academics come first. We have a different model than some other types of programs that are far smaller in scale and operate independently. We have a duty to ensure that New Jersey’s schools and their more than 1.5 million students and teachers, including 283,000 high school student-athletes, can first return to school and their academics, and then participate in extracurricular activities like sports.”

In a memo to NJSIAA member schools, the NJSIAA Sports Advisory Task Force said, “This plan is the first model to be provided in what will be a series of return to play models that will be in place for the 2020-2021 school year. The goal of the task force is to identify multiple back-up models that will be available as both school-related and health-related circumstances evolve.”

The memo went on note that the plan is to start allowing schools to train for a fall sports season, while also recognizing the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan released today is subject to change, NJSIAA said.

NJSIAA also asked schools and conferences to revise schedules to emphasize local competition and minimize the number of different schools that come in contact with each other. The postseason, at this point, will be open to any team wishing to participate. As with the regular season, the postseason will remain local, meaning a sectional championship or less.  A seeding committee will be used by every sport in order to remove the reliance on power points, standings and overall record.

Denis Nelson, a member of the NJSIAA COVID-19 Sports Advisory Task Force, said, “Removing the possibility for statewide, postseason competition is intended to convey the specific message that the fall season is specifically about opportunity, engagement, and participation. It is not about winning championships. From a health perspective, it’s appropriate to keep sports as local as possible. From a competition perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial but different impact on every school district. As a result, the playing field won’t be level this year, so it’s only fair not to crown statewide champions.”

The NJSIAA announcement follows decisions made this week by athletic leagues at the collegiate level to delay or altogether cancel their fall sports seasons.