How the Big Central can schedule a postseason that’s fair, competitive, and balanced, with trophies, too

Sayreville celebrates after winning the North 2, Group 4 title in 2016 at Rutgers University in Piscataway. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

by Mike Pavlichko

One of the most exciting prospects of a free-wheeling 2020 COVID-shortened high school football seasons is the fact that, according to the NJSIAA, leagues and conferences across the state will get to devise their own two-week postseasons.

NJSIAA Spokesman Mike Cherenson clarified this week that the NJSIAA won’t be assigning games for the postseason, though the association has said it would “schedule” and “announce” those games, presumably to have one information source and to avoid a shortage of game officials (which is another concern entirely).

But Cherenson told the following to Central Jersey Sports Radio this week via email, when asked to set the record straight on who is choosing the matchups: “If necessary – maybe a conference has an odd number of teams – (the) NJSIAA will help connect leagues and conference to solve issues.  If no help is needed, they are on their own.”

He further added: “The message is loud and clear, post season is NOT a priority during the pandemic, participation is the priority.”

Still, that can’t help but get us wondering: Could a league like the Big Central provide for championships of some kind, wile still ensuring participation for all? I believe it can, even if it needs a little help finding a game for an odd-numbered team.

I’ve said all along, I’d like to see some type of division playoffs, akin to what the North Jersey Insterscholastic Conference has done for the last handful of years. They schedule six regular season games, and then have two weeks of league playoffs.

What could divisional playoffs look like in the Big Central?

In my own fantasy playoffs, the top two teams in Division 5A would form a four-team bracket with the top two teams in Division 5B for a championship. The same would be done with the top two teams in 5C and 5A. In each division, the remaining bottom four teams would play each other in a four-team bracket to decide third- and fifth-place in their respective divisions.

With only one Division 4 and One Division 3, you could go one of two ways: have a Division 3 and 4 playoff by taking the top two teams from each and forming a bracket, or take the top 4 teams in each division and have them playoff within their division, having a combined consolation bracket between the four teams that encompass the bottom two places in each division.

You might need NJSIAA help with the above since there would be two odd teams out, a result of Piscataway (Division 5B) and Carteret (Division 3) not playing this year.

And so on, and so on.

You get participation, you get balance, and you get proximity – all things the divisions were created to achieve in the first place.

But just as importantly, you also get a championship. You get something to play for.

When I covered three pre-season camps this year – Somerville, Woodbridge and St. Joseph-Metuchen – all the players said the same thing even though the NJSIAA (smartly, I might add) put the kibosh on it:

We want to win a championship.

Had they paid attention to what the NJSIAA said? Probably not. Maybe they meant division championships. Others said the goal was to go undefeated, something that is still attainable for five Big Central teams: Somerville, North Brunswick, North Plainfield, Delaware Valley (all 5-0) and Woodbridge (4-0).

But why not let them – and every other team at the top of their divisions – play for a title? Imagine a school that could have the best team in program history not hanging a banner from their rafters this winter?

So I say, let them play.

What would the brackets look like? If you took overall records to seed them here’s what we’d have, if the season were over today:

Division 5A/B would include North Brunswick (5-0), Woodbridge (4-0), Cranford (4-1) and Edison (3-2) in that order. That’s an impressive and fun bracket. The 5A consolation bracket would be Colonia, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, JFK and Linden. The 5B consolation bracket would be Sayreville, New Brunswick, and Franklin, and you could pull in an extra team for one of those since Piscataway is not playing.

Division 5C/D would include Old Bridge (4-1), South Brunswick (4-1), Ridge (4-1) and Bridgewater-Raritan (2-1). Another great bracket! The 5C consolation bracket would have Monroe, East Brunswick, Perth Amboy and JP Stevens, while the 5D consolation would have Union, St. Joseph-Metuchen, Westfield and Elizabeth.

I personally like the combined Division 3/4 bracket, so let’s look at that one: Somerville (5-0), Phillipsburg (4-1), Rahway (4-1), and Watchung Hills (3-1). Man, that is a fantastic bracket! Your Division 3 consolation bracket would be Summit, Plainfield, South Plainfield and Warren Hills. The Division 4 consolation would have Hillsborough, Montgomery, North Hunterdon and Hunterdon Central.

It would inject some fun and excitement in this 2020 season. And if a team had to bow out due to a COVID concern? Move the next team into the bracket. If it’s for the championship round, move everyone up a place.

Later this week, I’ll tell you how this could be a model for a playoff plan that could be a win-win for everyone: leagues, North vs. South (and Central), the NJSIAA, public group champions, all while keeping Thanksgiving games in tact and not extending the season too far into December. It’s brilliant. I promise!

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