The football landscape in Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May counties could drastically change beginning in 2014.
The Cape-Atlantic League voted Wednesday to approve an application to join the West Jersey Football League according to CAL president and Mainland athletic director Michael Gatley.
Wednesday’s vote, which was 13-5 with four abstentions, was the first step in the process. Gatley said the next step is to file an official application to join the league, then wait for a review before an invitation is extended or not. WJFL officials said an official invitation likely wouldn’t be extended until the spring, if the league is granted entry.
“More so than anything else, it’s just the fact that three other South Jersey leagues looked at their football situation and said, ‘Hey, we’d be better served,'” Gatley said about the potential of moving.
There is no guarantee the WJFL will extend an invitation to the CAL, which is an 18-team, two-conference league in football. Gatley said he wasn’t sure what the chances are of being accepted.
“They don’t need us,” Gatley said. “I think they would love to have us, but it wouldn’t totally shock me if they turned around and said they appreciate our interest but they’re content right now.
“There are some positives with us going to West Jersey, but there’s also some negatives. We offer a lot of different schools and we offer a lot of different venues.”
The WJFL currently has 65 teams across 11 divisions and stretches from Wildwood to Princeton. Hammonton will switch to the WJFL in 2014 regardless since the Blue Devils are moving to the Tri-County Conference in all sports.
One WJFL commissioner, Tony Mitchell of Paul VI, said he believed the CAL, which was formed in 1949, would be a welcomed addition.
“There’s good teams there,” Mitchell said. “It would give us more options depending on how the league was put together. I think they would be a good fit, but we’d have to see.”
WJFL president Bud Kowal of Ewing High School was hesitant to say he wanted the CAL to join the league or not because the process is in its infant stages, but he recognized the benefits of adding more schools leads to more scheduling options.
“I think there’s advantages in doing it,” Kowal said. “If this does happen, you’re talking about from the Mercer County, Middlesex County line down, would be one football conference except for the Colonial Conference.”
WJFL divisions were set by group size with respect to geography during the first two-year schedule cycle. For the current one, more emphasis was put on competitive balance. But it’s likely Vineland and Millville would remain in the same division, possibly with teams such as Egg Harbor Township and Absegami. Buena’s schedule would likely be dramatically different though, as current league bylaws don’t allow teams to play someone more than one group size above them. Buena, a Group II school, wouldn’t play Vineland, Atlantic City or St. Augustine, three teams that are on its schedule this season.
Kowal said that rule is likely to change with the addition of Group V this past summer, but there would still be an effort to avoid small schools playing much larger ones.
Vineland’s rivalry with Millville is likely safe either way.
“That’s one of the criteria West Jersey has, is maintaining Thanksgiving rivalries,” Gatley said. “We (the CAL) look at is as a primary thing. It’s no question, those guys gotta play each other no matter what the conferences are. West Jersey honors that, but there’s no guarantee that, or any other rivalry, stays.”
Mitchell confirmed Gatley’s statement.
“The first thing we do, after the divisional games are set, the first games we set are the Thanksgiving Day games,” Mitchell said.
But the root of the change is based on creating a more competitive schedule for all schools.
“We got together (five years ago) because we had mismatches in the schedules we couldn’t do anything about,” Kowal said. “I think the Cape-Atlantic League and other people have seen how that has benefited the kids because they’re playing more competitive games, for the most part, week-in and week-out.”