Extra Points: Delays in Approval Proving Costly for Boxing, MMA in A.C.
Basketball, wrestling, swimming and other high school winter sports were given the go-ahead Tuesday by the NJSIAA and Governor Phil Murphy to hold shortened seasons this year.
Professional boxing and mixed martial arts have also been granted permission to hold events in Atlantic City and elsewhere in the state. However, their window of opportunity is closed, at least for now.
"Our plan was approved two weeks ago," Larry Hazzard, commissioner of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, said Tuesday. "But we have nothing scheduled at the moment."
It's clear that high school sports are able to resume, though they will be limited to a 15-game regular season and a two-week postseason schedule. Regular-season events will be held from Dec. 21, 2020 until Feb. 3, 2021. Teams are limited to two games per week, aside from two three-game weeks.
The NJSIAA announced that postseason events will take place from Feb. 5, 2021 to Feb. 17. As a result, there will be no State Individual Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall - one of the city's most popular sports events - this season. State championships in basketball and swimming are also expected to be cancelled.
Barring changes to the order, it's also extremely unlikely that spectators will be permitted at winter high school sports competitions. As of now, a maximum of 25 people will be permitted at a practice or competition, including players, coaches and officials. Events that require more than 25 people in the building - a wrestling dual meet would have 26 wrestlers, plus coaches, referees and athletic trainers, for example - may be held as long as no non-essential personnel are present. In those cases, the number of individuals cannot exceed 25 percent of the room capacity or 150 people, whichever is less.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for our student-athletes, support staff, and school communities," Governor Murphy said in a statement. "After consulting stakeholders and medical experts, we have concluded that, with proper public health and safety protocols in place, indoor sports may now resume in a way that protects players, coaches, and staff."
Other protocols require people in attendance to wear facemasks except when participating in rigorous activity and try to maintain a six-foot social distance whenever possible and practice proper hand hygiene.
The protocols established by the State Athletic Control Board for boxing and MMA events are stringent. In addition to requiring masks, social distancing and sanitizing requirements, other rules include fighters being quarantined in their hotel rooms upon arrival until their fight. Weigh-ins will be limited to one contestant in the room at a time. Ring card girls/guys will not be permitted. No media or fans will be allowed in the arena.
The problem is, it might be a while before the protocols are used.
Hazzard and Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Lembo established the new regulations in June after consulting with various boxing, mma and medical entities such as the Association of Professional Ringside Physicians, the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), and several other state athletic commissions.
Other states approved their regulations in June and July, opening the door for major promoters and organizations such as the PBC (Premier Boxing Champions), Top Rank and the UFC to fill their 2020 schedules with televised events at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Microsoft Theater is Los Angeles and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, among other venues. FOX, ESPN and streaming service DAZN show those events.
Because New Jersey waited until late September, Atlantic City was all but shut out. Main Events, Top Rank, Golden Boy and PBC have already committed to events in those other areas. Smaller promoters such as Vineland-based DeeLee Promotions, Philadelphia-based Hard Hitting Promotions and New York-based MMA promoter Ring of Combat - Millville's Rising Star Promotions is doing shows in Mexico - cannot afford to hold shows in Atlantic City without paying customers in the arena because they don't have TV contracts to offset the costs.
Vineland-based Caged Fury Fighting Championships, which regularly stages shows at Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City, has back-to-back events scheduled for Philadelphia's 2300 Arena on Oct. 27 and 28 that will be shown on UFC's Fight Pass.
"We're hopeful for a December return (to Hard Rock) if capacity (at Hard Rock's Etess Arena) goes to 25 percent," Haydak said in a text message Tuesday.