Faced with real problems like increasingly unaffordable property taxes, inadequate infrastructure, an opioid epidemic and the complexities of legalizing marijuana, the New Jersey legislature is considering a bill that would allow high schools in the same district to merge teams.
Like many things coming out of Trenton, it’s misguided.
The NJSIAA already allowed for so-called “co-ops” in certain cases, mostly between smaller schools in lower-profile sports that are struggling with small rosters. By throwing merger door wide open to anyone with declining turnout, politicians would be greasing the skids for abuse.
As it stands, the NJSIAA already is rolling the dice by allowing West Windsor-Plainsboro North and South to merge for football because of plummeting participation numbers at those fairly large schools. What if the merged program eventually becomes a power, threatening to win league and sectional titles? Is someone going to step in and undo the merger?
If not, you’ll have a truly imbalanced playing field — two high schools teaming up against one, every weekend, all the way to a championship.
It’s a misconception that merged teams can’t compete at a high level. Right now three high schools in Woodbridge form once ice hockey program, combined with the noble purpose of giving kids a chance to participate because at least one of the schools would be unable to field a team on its own.
That three-school team is good enough to possibly win the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament this year. Is that fair to a contender like Monroe?
The point is this: High school sports mergers are tricky enough with the NJSIAA’s current strictures. Loosening them is asking for trouble.
Given the opportunity, some school administrators will stretch the rules to win games. They’re the same ones who look the other way while transfers and their parents lie about where they live.
Politicians should keep their noses out of high school sports except in cases of athlete safety. They created a mess with the school choice and tuition-school initiatives, which were designed to help students improve their academic situation at another school. These laws spawned juggernaut teams at places like Hoboken, Bound Brook and Point Pleasant Beach.
Here’s the point, in a nutshell: If you want to trust that no one will abuse an expanded opportunity to merge sports, go right ahead.
But don’t act surprised when somebody does.