NJSIAA boss Larry White: New bills would cause 'significant havoc'

Action from last fall’s Timber Creek vs. Williamstown football game on October 27, 2017.

Legislation awaiting outgoing Gov. Chris Christie’s signature to become law would “create significant havoc” in scholastic sports in the state, New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association executive director Larry White said Wednesday.

The NJSIAA on Wednesday also issued a statement to member schools in the state, warning against the possibility of “super teams” and urging school officials to reach out to Christie through his legal team to discourage the governor from signing the bills, which passed both houses of the state legislature Monday.

White, a Penns Grove native who became the NJSIAA’s top executive on Jan. 1, has been outspoken in opposition to the bills, which would allow school districts with multiple high schools to form cooperative teams in any sport without oversight by the NJSIAA.

The bills are designed to allow districts to form cooperative teams to address concerns about low participation or budget constraints.

Christie has until noon on Tuesday, his last day in office, to sign the bills. If he declines to sign, opting for a so-called “pocket veto,” the legislation will not take effect.

The bills could be re-introduced but would need to pass through the legislative process again.

If Christie signs the bills, the legislation would take effect July 1.

“The legislation is arbitrary and caprious,”the NJSIAA said in a statement sent to member schools. “It gives benefits to multi-school districts that are not available to any other public-school districts or non-public schools.”

The companion bills were introduced by state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and state assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer). The bills passed the state senate by a 24-10 vote and the state assembly by a 52-14 vote on Monday.

White said the NJSIAA has rules that allow for the formation of cooperative teams in many sports to address concerns about low participation.

Under current NJSIAA rules, schools in the same district or in different districts can form cooperative programs in all sports except basketball, baseball, softball and spring track. Schools larger than Group 2 level also are prohibited from forming co-op teams in soccer and lacrosse.

Co-operative agreements must be approved by the schools’ respective leagues or conferences and also by the NJSIAA’s executive committee.

White said the new bills would allow for the creation of all-star-like teams within large districts that would limit opportunities for student athletes, upend the competitive balance in scholastic sports, put single-school districts at a significant disadvantage and possibly create safety risks.

White said one of the “intended consequences” of the bills is that some districts are likely to see the creation of cooperative programs as an opportunity to form teams that will have a much greater chance of competing for conference, sectional and state titles.

“Sports have gotten a little crazy,” White said after the organization’s executive committee meeting in Robbinsville. “The things that people will do to win, it’s a little scary.”