Professional sports are once again allowed to train and even compete in New Jersey, following an announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday.

Whether they'll take him up on the offer quickly remains to be seen.

Sports teams have remained idle since Murphy's executive orders shut down non-essential businesses, gatherings and discouraged unnecessary travel — restrictions he's eased slightly in the last few weeks. The NHL's Devils, which play in Newark, suspended their season in March. The Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, who have a training facility in Camden, also temporarily halted their season.

New Jersey's minor league baseball teams — the Lakewood BlueClaws, the New Jersey Jackels, Somerset Patriots and Trenton Thunder delayed the starts of their seasons.

"Professional sports teams in NJ may return to training and even competition – if their leagues choose to move in that direction. We have been in constant discussions with teams about necessary protocols to protect the health and safety of players, coaches, and personnel," Murphy said in an announcement on his Twitter account.

"We know they have facilities where proper sanitation and hygiene practices can readily be maintained," Murphy said at his daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday.

Murphy said youth sports are still prohibited, but hopes that will change in the near future.

"The paid full-time nature" of pro sports in terms of maintenance and players was a big factor to Murphy in reaching his decision, he said — "As opposed to a youth sports reality which is less rigid and more casual than a professional reality."

Murphy stressed that gatherings for sports events would be subject to the same restrictions as others — which include prohibitions on gatherings of 25 or more people, require gatherings to be outdoors and generally limit contact between attendees.

But an executive order Monday says nothing in the order "shall prevent professional
athletes from fulfilling their job duties, including when those job duties may require person-to-person contact."

It wasn't immediately clear how fans and support staff might be accommodated, if at all.

The return of pro sports will not immediate. The first team to return to New Jersey will be the Giants. In a statement, the Giants said they would reopen their training facility in the Meadowlands next week.

The Jets told the NFL Network they will open their Florham Park training facility in a "phased approach at a time that is the most practical for our operations."

The NHL is hoping to move to Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol early next month. That includes opening practice facilities and allowing small group workouts. Six players will be allowed in team facilities at one time for the voluntary workouts.

Disney and the NBA are in talks to resume play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex located at Disney World in Orlando.

Major League Baseball is talking to its players union on Tuesday to finalize a plan to return to play. Their decision will affect whether the BlueClaws, a minor league affiliate of the Phillies, and Thunder, who are affiliated with the Yankees, return to the field.

The Somerset Patriots told New Jersey 101.5 their organization was "continuously monitoring the news and following the guidelines determined by health experts and government officials."

"We would be ready to play when the time is right with the appropriate measures taken to protect our fans, staff, players and the entire community," Patriots President Patrick McVerry said in an email. "We have been proactively looking at ways to best provide a safe environment at the ballpark when our season is able to begin."

(Includes material copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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