by Mike Pavlichko
UPDATED with a statement from NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire.
A big hurdle has been cleared in New Jersey’s push to allow state championships in high school football.
At its Executive Committee meeting Wednesday, the NJSIAA announced that a measure to eliminate language from its own Constitution saying “no state championships, however, shall be declared in football” passed by a wide margin: 318-12, with six abstentions.
Ultimately 94.6 percent of the 336 schools that voted said “yes.”
It was widely expected the measure would get the OK from NJSIAA membership. An informal survey of a majority of Big Central Conference schools after the vote last week showed 37 schools that responded either had voted or planned to vote in favor of the measure to remove the language, while only two voted against the proposal.
“Our members have spoken and I applaud their decision,” NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire said in a statement. “Now it is time to get to work on a plan that will bring a true state champion in high school football to reality.”
New Jersey and New York are the only states in the country that don’t play the postseason all the way down to group championships.
But, as Maguire alluded to, actually playing to state champions is not a done deal just yet.
In effect, the vote is an approval of the idea in concept; it only eliminates language that prevented public schools from playing group championships.
Now, the membership must agree on the best way to do that.
Of course, the Football Leagues and Conferences Committee – which was responsible for Step One, already has Step Two ready to go, as outlined in a memo from Maguire, which can be found here. If approved, it would go into effect for the 2022 football season.
The Big Central Conference’s representatives on the committee are Big Central President and Brearley Athletic Director/Head Football Coach Soctt Miller, as well as Colonia Athletic Director Ben LaSala.
The plan would add an extra week of games to the postseason, allowing for five weeks of playoffs (the typical three sectional weeks, plus group semifinals and finals). But it would “backtime” the season so that the group championships would always be scheduled the week after Thanksgiving. The start of the season would be determined by counting back from Thanksgiving.
The plan is thought to address several key issues:
- It allows for group champions to be crowned in public schools. Some consider the lack of true “state champions” a detriment to New Jersey football, which otherwise is some of the best in the nation
- It does not add extra weeks on the back end of the season, avoiding additional conflicts for football players who participate in Winter sports. Many feared an additional week of playoffs would further disrupt football players who also participate in sports like basketball or wrestling.
- It allows schools that play on Thanksgiving to continue with those games, without affecting the playoff schedule. Many schools with big rivalry games – like Phillipsburg has with Easton – did not want to be forced to choose between the playoffs or their Turkey Day games.
When could it all be official? By June, according to Maguire’s December 15th memo, which also fully outlined the proposal, and can be found here. The process would be started this Friday.
“A proposal from the working group will be submitted to NJSIAA by Friday, January 15, 2021. The Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday, January 28, 2021. If the proposal is endorsed by the Advisory Committee, then the members of this working group will present their proposal at two sectional meetings to solicit further feedback. These sectional meetings will be scheduled at a later date, but we anticipate that they will be held in either March or April. The final form and substance of the proposal will be subject to approval by the Executive Committee at its meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021
According to the memo, final approval would come at the NJSIAA’s Annual Meeting, which was rescheduled this year from the first Monday in May (per NJSIAA bylaws) to June 7th.
It’s clear from the vote on Article IX the vast majority of NJSIAA schools approve of the idea of playing to state champions. The next challenge is getting everyone to agree on how to do it.