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Our plan to bring state football championships to New Jersey
Written by Paul Mencher - Wednesday, August 20 2014  

Had things worked out differently, New Jersey high school football could have had a groundbreaking season this fall. But a proposal to create true public-school state championships for the first time was shot down decisively by member schools of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).

Schools took issue with several aspects of the proposal, specifically beginning the season a week earlier and playing championship games a week later. Fears about a potential (albeit phantom) threat to Thanksgiving Day games and the lack of any changes for non-public schools also played a role in the vote against the proposal.

high school sports image
The idea of true football state championships in New Jersey has been kicked around for years, but so far no plan has been able to satisfy enough people. (Photo by Randy Mills)

Jersey Sports Now believes the idea of high school state football championships is worth another try. And so we have come up with a plan that satisfies most of the legitimate concerns expressed about the previous proposal, while also maintaining some of its key aspects:

No early start -- Teams would open their seasons the same weekend as they do now. No one would be forced to open the season on Labor Day or begin practice earlier.

No late finish -- The championship weekend would fall on the first weekend in December, the same as under the current schedule.

Turkey Day maintained -- Traditional Thanksgiving Day games would continue to be played.

No games lost -- The nine-game regular season would be maintained for all public school teams.

Leagues stay intact -- No change in the current league structure would be necessary.

So how do we do it? We propose several key changes from the defeated plan, put forward by the Big North Conference last year:

More groups, less teams per group -- Instead of leaving the number of groups at five, as proposed by the Big North, we would increase the number to eight. We would also reduce the number of playoff qualifiers from eight teams per section back to four, as in the past.

Admittedly, fewer teams would qualify for the state playoffs under this format than now. But the number of public-school qualifiers would be 128, the same number that made the states until the NJSIAA added Group V just a few years ago. That represents a bit more than 40% of all public high school football teams in New Jersey, which we consider a sufficient number.

Also, many believe that the addition of the fifth group watered down the playoffs, so reducing the number of qualifiers should actually improve the quality of postseason football.

Teams would still qualify for the playoffs on the basis of power points, using the first eight games as is done now.

Click here to to see how the sections would look if there were eight football groups.

The Connecticut solution -- The issue of Thanksgiving Day games is a thorny one, to be sure, and the fact that a good portion of Garden State high school teams play on Turkey Day is a major obstacle to a state playoff. New Jersey is one of the few states where Thanksgiving Day football games remain a strong tradition. But one other state has proven that Turkey Day pigskin and state playoffs can work together.

In Connecticut, Thanksgiving Day is the final day of the regular season in football. Not every team plays that day, but many do. In order to accommodate Turkey Day games, yet complete the state playoffs in a timely fashion, Connecticut uses an interesting solution: they play first-round state playoff games on Tuesday after Thanksgiving weekend. (The second round follows on Saturday, with finals one week after that.)

Adapting the Connecticut solution to New Jersey, we propose the following: when teams that won sectional titles are playing Thanksgiving Day games, their state semifinal games can be held on Monday or Tuesday of the following week, in order to make it possible to still play the finals the first week of December. State semifinal games featuring two teams that don't play on Turkey Day could be contested over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Click here to see a detailed breakdown of the how the schedule would work under our proposal.

Turkey protection -- Despite the fact that the Big North plan specifically carved out room for Thanksgiving Day football, some athletic directors apparently voted against it out of a fear that somehow that would change in the future.

So, to reassure those folks, we propose the following rule be put into place: that any vote that would require schools to give up their Thanksgiving Day games, or could potentially force them to do so in favor of a state playoff game, be approved by two-thirds of the full NJSIAA membership. That would assure that no such move could be pushed through without a full debate.

Non-public bonus game -- The defeated plan was specifically geared toward public schools. But the full NJSIAA membership, including non-public schools, got to vote. The wide margin of defeat suggests that at least some of those non-publics voted "no,", perhaps seeing no benefit for themselves.

Non-public schools will still only play a maximum of three playoff games even if public state championships are created. So we propose to allow non-public teams to play 10 regular season games. The extra game would be completely optional and not required. Teams could play the nine regular weeks, plus Thanksgiving; or if the NJSIAA continues to approve an optional early start, as it has in 2013 and 2014, schools could use that weekend as well.

We're sure some people will find fault with this proposal, but the reality is that no plan will ever be able to satisfy everyone, considering all the competing interests involved in New Jersey high school football. What is necessary is to make trade-offs. For example, our plan has fewer teams qualifying for the playoffs, and fewer teams that can call themselves "state champions" at the end. On the other hand, there will be more exciting playoff games, more sectional champions, and those state champs will be truly deserving of the title.

Another trade-off would be for the NJSIAA itself. The football tournament is an important revenue source for the organization, and our plan would reduce the number of overall public-school games in the tournament from 140 to 120. On the other hand, there will be more games at big stadiums, which should mean larger crowds. As we are not privy to the NJSIAA's books, we cannot know for sure how our plan might impact their finances. But we feel it is likely that the proposal would mean more revenue, not less.

It's natural for people to be wary of change, and for some involved in New Jersey high school football, the current set-up works just fine. But we think it would be worthwhile to try something new and exciting, and we believe our plan has the potential to make it a reality.

Click here to see the schedule breakdown as it would work under our proposal.

Click here to to see how the sections would look if there were eight football groups.

Click here to read our first article about the football state playoff situation.

We invite your comments or reactions to our proposal. Click here to send us your thoughts!

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