ROBBINSVILLE — A dramatic change could be coming to high school football in New Jersey. At a recent executive session, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) unveiled specifics of a proposal to allow the 308 teams representing its public high school members to compete for overall group state championships.
In December, all association member schools will have the opportunity to vote on amending the NJSIAA constitution to remove a prohibition against playoffs that would crown public school group champions. If this vote is successful –a two-thirds majority is required — the association’s football committee would then be charged with implementing the new playoff format for the 2014 season.
The NJSIAA currently conducts an annual football playoff that culminates with teams capturing group sectional championships. This structure is somewhat unusual, in that 49 of the 51 state athletic associations now crown group champions.
“Here in New Jersey, we have a reputation for being trend-setters across the spectrum of interscholastic sports,” observed Steve Timko, NJSIAA executive director. “In fact, we have more championship tournaments than any other state. But with football playoffs, we’re out of sync with what has become the national norm of playing for group-wide championships. And that’s why we’ve proposed this change.”
The effort to reform the football playoff format to crown group state champions was an association member-driven initiative led by Big North Conference executive director Denis Nelson, the athletic director at River Dell Regional High School.
Besides football, all other NJSIAA sports — fall, winter, and spring — feature a playoff structure ending with a group-level champion or the equivalent. In addition, football teams representing non-public school NJSIAA member school — of which there are currently 38 — have played out to a group state champion since 1993.
Under the proposed new structure, all public school teams would play a nine-game schedule in 2014, beginning on Friday, September 5 and Saturday, September 6. Final regular season games would be played on October 31 and November 1, with determinations on playoff participation and seeding taking place on “Selection Sunday,” November 2.
Playoff rounds would then be played on November 7 and 8 and on November 14 and 15, with all sectional finals contested on November 21 and November 22. Thanksgiving weekend games — not part of the playoff structure — would be played on November 27, 28, and 29.
The playoffs would resume December 5 and 6 with 20 state group semi-final games being played at neutral sites. Finals, to determine the five group state champions, would be played — again at neutral sites — on December 12 and 13.
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