by Mike Pavlichko
An NJSIAA memo circulated to all member schools by Executive Director Colleen Maguire calls for public school group championships to be contested as early as 2022.
The plan would not extend the season any further than previous seasons (which have typically ended with Championship Weekend coming the week after Thanksgiving for much of the life of the playoffs in New Jersey) and would allow for a week of Thanksgiving play for those who choose to do so.
Playoff games that conflict with Thanksgiving week games have long been seen as a stumbling block to New Jersey playing to overall public group champions on football, making the Garden State one of just two – New York being the other – that do not crown group champs among public schools.
According to a proposal created by the Football Leagues & Conferences Committee – not the NJSIAA itself – the plan would be to have an eight-game regular season, followed by three weeks of sectional playoffs, and a state semifinal round – all before Thanksgiving. Following Thanksgiving week, public group champions would be crowned. The start of the season would be backtimed so that the public school group championships would always be played the week following Thanksgiving.
For 2022, that would put the first day of practice at August 10th, with Week 1 of the regular season September 2nd. Cutoff Weekend would be October 21, and the public group finals December 3rd and 4th.
The proposal would not include any changes to the current playoff system, which uses a mix of traditional Power Points and Opponent Strength Index to form the NJ United Power Ranking, which is used to seed teams.
Much needs to be done for the proposal to become official. The timeline, according to the memo:
- January 15: A final plan – which could vary from the one described in the memo – will be submitted by the Leagues & Conferences group to the NJSIAA
- January 28: The Advisory Committee must decide whether to endorse the proposal.
- March/April: Further feedback would be gathered at two sectional meetings, which have not yet been scheduled.
- May 12: “Final form and substance” of the proposal would be subject to approval by the Executive Committee
- June 7: Final vote by NJSIAA membership. (According to the memo, the NJSIAA recently moved its annual meeting from the first Monday in May to the first Monday in June.)
There still could be one more obstacle: The NJSIAA still has in its bylaws language that says “No state championship, however, shall be declared in football.”
It’s widely believed that this Article IX of the NJSIAA Constitution must be eliminated in order to play to group champions, and a two-thirds vote at the NJSIAA’s Business Meeting January 6th would do the trick.
However, the NJSIAA has said publicly in the past that it does not believe crowning group champs in football would be in violation of its own Constitution.
The language does not specifically say “group champions.” It says “no state championship,” which could be perceived as a ban on an overall champion, such as those crowned by the Tournament of Champions which includes various groups, as well as non-public schools.
One added wrinkle to the proposal would include a separate “regional playoff” for the highest-ranked teams in each group that didn’t qualify for the actual playoffs.
Teams seeded one through 16 would still go to the “playoffs,” but the next 8 teams down would go into a “regional playoff,” a kind of consolation bracket featuring teams 17 to 24.
Teams 24 and down would get two weeks of “crossover” games – the typical “consolation” games, while those eliminated from any of the playoff brackets in the first round could request a crossover game in Week 10.