NJ High School Extra Eligibility Plan Gets Pushback

Andy Berg Headshot

An idea to craft legislation that would allow high school student-athletes in New Jersey an additional year of eligibility is being greeted with apprehension.

Proposed by senator Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), "‘Bridge Year" legislation would allow student-athletes in classes 2021 and 2022 an additional spring season of eligibility. The plan would allow current sophomores and juniors — after graduation — to return to their high school to participate in spring extracurricular activities, including interscholastic sports.

To take advantage of the plan, students would have to be enrolled as non-matriculated students and be taking classes at a New Jersey county community college.

The plan also offers up to 24 college credits for $145 each, plus minimal lab fees, at any New Jersey county community college. The credits would transfer to any state public college — and to any private or out-of-state school that chooses to accept them.

Sarlo contends the proposal has the support of the Department of Education and New Jersey college presidents, but high school administrators are apprehensive about the plan.

“We’re talking about the possibility of a 19-year-old playing in a contact or collision sport (such as lacrosse) and that drastically flies in the face of NJSIAA safety requirements,” Michael Ben-David, superintendent at West Morris Regional High School District, told NJ.com.

“You could have a 19-year-old or an almost 20-year-old playing against a 14-year-old,” said Rich Carroll, Middletown North and South athletic director and Shore Conference president. “Is that fair? The bill has great intentions. You are giving kids an opportunity, but at the same time you are taking an opportunity away from other kids. The spring athletes did lose something. But it’s a level playing field. Everyone lost something.

“There are districts like Toms River going through budget cuts and potentially eliminating sub-varsity programs," continued Carroll, indicating possible unintended consequences on even younger students when a bridge-year athlete lands on a varsity roster. "There may not be a JV team for a kid to get pushed down to.”

Lindenwold athletic director Derryk Sellers questioned whether there would be demand for such a plan.

“If eight seniors graduate, eight freshmen move up,” he said. “What kid would want to graduate from high school and then go back? By next spring the kids are going to forget about everything that happened this spring.”

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