COLUMN: Has NJ basketball been hit with a technical?

By TOM WILLIAMS

About five weeks ago, high school basketball in South Jersey came to an end. It wasn’t a typical season because of the COVID-19 virus. The attitude was basically go play your 15 games and be thankful that there was any kind of season.

Of course, the majority of teams did not get to play 15 games, largely because of virus exposures. And, with the exception of the Tri-County Conference Tournament, there was no post-season.

Yet, right now wrestlers are in the middle of regional and state championship competitions.

Look, there may have been some mistakes made that had a negative affect on basketball but we always need to remember this pandemic caught everybody by surprise. It was unlike anything experienced by anybody in the country. So, maybe decisions were weighted heavily toward safety.

But that was the six-week 2021 season. Things should be back a lot closer to normal starting in December when the 2021-22 season tips off.

Tinker, Yogi and the guys who run the prestigious Battle By The Bay are putting their schedule together. Though the next Battle By The Bay will not be on Super Bowl Weekend because the NFL has moved its event a week later.

John Rodio is creating a schedule for the 2022 Seagull Classic, the lineup is virtually complete for the War vs. Shore girls showcase at Mainland and the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend in Ocean City. Wildwood’s Boardwalk Basketball Classic and other events are also gathering their ideas about next season.

Chances are there could be some limitation on live fans at some games, especially early in the season. But things are moving back toward normal and you can keep them moving in the right direction by wearing your mask and getting vaccinated.

It is a great feeling.

Or, at least, it was until the NJSIAA announced its plans for the 2022-23 basketball season.

According to a proposal passed by the NJSIAA executive committee on Wednesday (you’ve probably read something about it on social media) the basketball season will be reduced from 71 days to 53 days. That includes the eight days from Christmas Eve to the day after New Year’s Day when schools are closed.

Teams will be allowed to play only 22 games instead of the current 26. The first practice will be on Nov. 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and the first game can be played 17 days later on Dec. 15. The regular season will end on Monday Feb. 6 and the NJSIAA Tournament will run from Wednesday Feb. 8 until Sunday Feb. 26. It is likely that the Tournament of Champions would be played the first week of March.

The current schedule (26 games in 71 days) calls for roughly one game every three days. The proposed change (22 games in 53 days) calls for one every two days. And that includes the eight-day holiday break and the possibility of losing days to snow.

One of the goals of these changes (which also affect every other sport to a lesser degree) is to create time in between the end of one season and the start of the next. It would, the feeling goes, encourage more multi-sport athletes and make it easier for them.

Maybe – though many multi-sport athletes have indicated how much they like the quick transition from one sport to another and don’t like not having a practice or game to attend almost every day.

Even if this new approach is a boon to multi-sport athletes and makes the wall calendars of athletics directors more uniform, this schedule could destroy or greatly alter the unique combination of county and league tournaments and weekend showcases that make New Jersey basketball so special.

Lets look at an alternative plan.

Begin with an idea put forward by an award-winning sports columnist – start the NJSIAA Tournament on the Tuesday after President’s Day – Tuesday, Feb. 21. That adds 14 days to the regular season and, since half the teams lose in the first round of the tournament, gives a great majority of those multi-sport athlete lots of free time.

But lets also add a few more days at the beginning.

Instead of starting the season on the Thursday or Friday before the third Saturday in December, start on the Monday before the third Saturday. That would allow teams to play an extra game or two in that week and not have to stuff them into a week later in the season.

And, while we’re at it – on another subject – why not take the lead from the NCAA which is currently considering allowing every student-athlete one transfer with no restrictions. You leave one school, register at the next one and play right away. No need to produce electric bills to prove your family moved. If a student-athlete transfers a second time, then the current 30-day rule could be used.

New Jersey basketball is special. It is special because of the coaches – like Bob Hurley, Paul Rodio, Joe Kessler, Dave Troiano, Kevin Boyle, Jim Crawford, Tom Feraco, Paul Collins, Lisa Gedaka and Ken Leary. It is special because of the players – more than 160 went on to the NBA (including Chris Ford, just selected to the NJSIAA Hall of Fame). And it is special because of the way the season is staged – the county and league tournaments, the showcases, the great media coverage, the Tournament of Champions and so much more.

All high school sports are important because of how they contribute to the learning process. But football, basketball and wrestling are the money producers and the big fan sports. They produce income that helps finance other sports tournaments and scholarships, among other advantages.

The NJSIAA gave wrestling a great season this year, right through state championships. The association continues to expand the football season, now running from late August through mid-December. It needs to treat basketball with the same consideration.

New Jersey high school basketball has always been a great experience, for the players, coaches and fans. It should not be treated like a problem that needs solving.

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