Five days from now, the NJSIAA’s membership will decide whether to change the landscape of scholastic football in the state of New Jersey.
Currently, the NJSIAA has to end its public school football playoffs at the sectional championship level because of the following sentence in Article IX of the NJSIAA constituion: “No state championship, however, shall be declared in football.”
Two-thirds of the membership in attendance Monday at The Pines Manor in Edison have to vote to eliminate that one sentence in order for the NJSIAA to be allowed to play out to overall public school state group champions beginning next year.
If there is not a two-thirds vote for the constitutional change, the structure of the public school playoffs will not change from what it has been since its creation in 1974.
The concept of group champions in high school football can work. However, this playoff structure should not get the membership’s support.
A flaw in this system is that it maintains the Thanksgiving week regular-season games. While many cherish the rivalries and traditions that accompany these games, they already disrupt the postseason. And unfortunately, that disruption would only grow in the new system.
Under the new structure, the playoffs would be interrupted after three weeks of games, with two weeks of playoff games to follow. Currently, the Thanksgiving games are interrupting the playoffs after two weeks of games with just one week of sectional finals remaining.
In the Shore, only two of the 17 games this week will decide divisional championships. They are Rumson-Fair Haven at Red Bank Catholic on Friday night for the Class A Central championship and Point Beach at Shore tonight (weather permitting, or Friday night if it is postponed) for the Class B Central title. Shore and Point Beach will also meet on Dec. 7 at The College of New Jersey in the Central Group I championship game.
A logical scheduling format would have all schools play nine weeks of regular-season games, with the games currently played on Thanksgiving incorporated during those nine weeks. The regular season should be done before the playoffs begin. Can you imagine a system in the National Football League where teams played several playoff games and then had to go back and play the 16th regular-season game? That would be ridiculous.
This could lead to situations where teams who do not qualify for the playoffs will have to wait three weeks for the Thanksgiving week game — an additional week on top of the two these teams could already wait. And teams with Thanksgiving games that lose in first round now have to wait one week to finish up their regular season. Under this new proposal, that grows to two weeks of inactivity.
If a team does not qualify for the postseason or gets knocked out of the playoffs, it is time to end the season, put the equipment away and give those student-athletes time to rest before moving onto a winter sport or other endeavors.
The New Jersey playoff structure has already been hurt by two other recent decisions by the NJSIAA Executive Committee — the creation of a Group V for football and the change that allows teams with losing records into the postseason.
These decisions have watered down the playoffs, creating too many uninteresting games and allowing too many teams in the playoffs who have no business being anywhere near them.
Many people — including yours truly — believe one of the major motivating reasons for those decisions was financial. With 32 extra teams in the playoffs and 28 more playoff games being played over the last two seasons, it has created additional revenue streams for the NJSIAA.
It’s no stretch to believe the attempt to expand the playoffs to overall state group champions is also financial. An expanded playoff format would create 15 extra games all played at neutral sites.
NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko said last Thursday night in an interview on 105.7 FM that, “The last reason this has happened was for financial reasons.”
Timko is someone I respect. He is a good, hard-working man. However, to reference George Young, the late general manager of the football Giants, “When they say it isn’t about the money, it’s about the money.”
An expanded playoff format should not include a Group V. There was nothing wrong with the four-group system, used through 2011. Why was there the need for a Group V? Both Timko and Jack DuBois, the assistant director who oversees football for the association, said when the Group V concept was approved by the Executive Committee it was about providing more opportunities for member schools.
But it also provided more opportunity for additional money for an association that has been placed under financial stress because of the implementation of a ticket-pricing law authored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, in 2010.
How else could one explain some of the mediocrity the Group V concept has created in some sections? Of the association’s 346 football-playing members, 192 now qualify for the playoffs between the Group V and losing record additions. Central Group IV and South Group III were prime examples this year of the overall mediocrity Group V has created. Two teams in each of those sections qualified with losing records.
There should be no losing teams in the playoffs under an expanded playoff format. This should be not be the National Hockey League of the 1980s, where 16 of the 21 teams qualified for the playoffs.
The concept of overall group public school champions is a good one. The structure the NJSIAA would use should this come about next week is poor. The membership needs to vote no to this. The NJSIAA and its Executive Committee has consistently made wrong decisions for too long when it comes to its football playoffs.
In the meantime, let’s hope all fans enjoy the games this week, especially my former colleague Joe Adelizzi. I know he hopes the Toms River South-Lakewood game is always played on Thanksgiving Day. Happy Thanksgiving Joe and to everyone.