The message from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association membership Monday morning at its annual business meeting at The Pines Manor was loud and clear: They do not want an expanded football playoff format.
A proposal from the North Jersey-based Big North Conference that would have eliminated one sentence in Article IX of the NJSIAA’s constitution and allowed public schools to play for state group football championships beginning in 2014 was rejected by a vote of 183 “no” and 95 “yes” with three abstentions.
“I thought the vote was a resounding answer to the question,” said NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko.
An early start to football — which infringed upon summer vacation time for some — and a late close to the gridiron campaign — which infringed upon the start of the winter sports season for some — were among the key issues that led to the proposal’s failure.
Article IX states: “No state championship, however, shall be declared in football.” To eliminate that sentence would have required the approval of two-thirds of those who voted, because it would have been a constitutional change.
The public school playoffs, since they were implemented in 1974, will continue to end at the sectional championship level. Non-Public schools have played out to state championship since 1993 because their four groups are state-wide groups.
It is the third time in the past six years and fourth time in the last dozen years an attempt to expand the public school playoffs to overall state group champions was defeated by the membership.
An attempt two years ago by current Brick Memorial athletic director Bill Bruno and former East Brunswick coach Marcus Borden to eliminate that sentence in Article IX fell 23 votes shy of approval and had a majority of those who voted in favor.
This time, almost two-thirds of those who voted were against it even though the NJSIAA’s League and Conferences committee had agreed on a structure for a season with an expanded playoff format in September. The NJSIAA’s executive committee approved that structure in November.
“Everything the schools asked for we included in this proposal,” said NJSIAA assistant director Jack DuBois, who oversees football for the association and had made several statements in support of the expanded playoff format. “I am disappointed. We addressed all the concerns.
“The members make their rules. The membership spoke. So be it.”
A structure of a season with the expanded playoff format would have seen the season start a week earlier. In some years, the start of the season would have been Labor Day weekend. The season would have ended a week later than it currently does. The Thanksgiving Day rivalry games would have been maintained in an attempt to increase support for the vote.
Those public schools who reached a state championship would have played 14 games — two more than the maximum teams currently play.
“We’re a community of rentals,” said Point Pleasant Beach athletic director Ellen Magliaro, after the vote. Magliaro voted against the proposal. “Many of our kids work on the beaches and boardwalks. They would have to vacate those jobs by Aug 10 for football practice. That’s a problem for those kids.”
“You would have had to tell parents you can’t take vacations after Aug. 10,” said Point Beach head coach John Wagner after the vote. “We had kids last summer who went to the Hamptons and Hawaii. That’s the way New Jersey is, period.”
During the discussion period before the vote, another reason cited by those was safety concerns with the increased emphasis at all levels of football over concussions.
“We will lose a certain amount of kids to injury,” said Magliaro, whose school is a small Group I school and will play Shore Regional Saturday at The College of New Jersey in the Central Group I championship game. “It’s the same reason the pros don’t want to add games.”
Increased costs on school districts for having to pay trainers to tend to players earlier than they do now and workers overtime to get football facilities ready was another reason cited during the discussion.
New Jersey crowns group champions in every sport but football. The NJSIAA remains one of just two of the country’s 51 athletic associations whose public schools do not play for group titles on the gridiron.
“I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Shore Regional athletic director Harry Chebookjian, who voted for the proposal. “It’s kind of a bias against football that we don’t have a state championship.”
“I’m completely disappointed,” said Carteret head football coach Matt Yascko, whose Ramblers won sectional titles in 2007 and 2012. “The two times I was lucky enough to win a (sectional) championship, I would have loved to see how it played out.
“I wish that the state would have a chance to showcase some phenomenal matchups between the best teams at the end of the season. Who wouldn’t want to see Piscataway against — take your pick — say a Cherokee or a Shawnee?”
Those who spoke out in favor during the discussion period said if the sentence was eliminated the structure could always be looked at in two years.
“We thought without it being changed, there is no further looking into it,” said Toms River Regional Schools District athletic director Joe Arminio, whose three schools each voted for the proposal. “By changing the constitution, we felt we could take a better look at maybe something in the future.”
The future for any further attempts to eliminate that sentence in Article IX is murky at best. It must now be tabled for at least two more years — the required waiting period for a proposed constitutional amendment to be reintroduced.
“I think it’s dead in the water,” said Chebokjian, a former head coach at Red Bank Regional. “You won’t see anything while I’m still an athletic director.”
“I think you go back to the drawing point,” Arminio said. “I think you have got a state that is definitely divided on whether there should be an overall champion or not.”
Timko admitted, “That’s a thought,” when asked if it was time to let things simmer down before another attempt to change the constitution is made.
He also defended the association against those who have written over the past several weeks that the reason the constitution change was being pursued was purely for the increased revenue the 15 extra public school playoff games would bring an association that has been placed under financial strain since the implementation of a ticket-pricing law by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, in 2010.
“We don’t initiate legislation ourselves, and we kept saying that,” Timko said. “I know money came up as an issue for us. But, in the two previous votes, it was about the sport and how great having group championships would be. Now, this year, money became an issue. I don’t understand it.”