Though the NJSIAA has not publicly posted on its website the new football classifications that will begin being used in 2021, a draft proposal that several athletic directors say is official shows 14 Big Central Conference public school teams moving to new supersections this season.
Of those, only four teams are moving down to a lower group, while just two are moving up.
The NJSIAA reclassifies schools every annually, though it has not done so since 2018. That was in part due to wanting consistency with a new playoff formula, and – last year – due to COVID-19 and the lack of NJSIAA playoffs.
Classifications are based on the sum of students in grades 9, 10 and 11.
Movin’ On Up…
Making the jump from North 1 to South 2 are Bound Brook and New Providence, both of whom saw enrollment increase by about 20 students. They had been the two largest schools in that section.
Now, the Crusaders and Pioneers will join a supersection that includes fellow Big Central members A.L. Johnson, Spotswood, Delaware Valley, Metuchen, Roselle, South River and Hillside.
Bound Brook and New Providence are division-mates in Big Central Division 1A along with Middlesex, Roselle Park and Brearley.
Brearley and Dayton are the lone remaining Big Central teams in the North 1 supersection, thanks in part to other changes. (See “Lateral Moves” below.)
Going Down, Down…
The four teams dropping down a group are Ridge, Sayreville, North Hunterdon and Cranford.
Ridge – which saw its enrollment drop by about 100 students – will move from North 5 to North 4, the first time it has been a Group 4 school since the NJSIAA expanded from four to five groups for the start of the 2012 season. The Red Devils won the North 2, Group 5 title in 2013.
Sayreville only saw enrollment drop by a couple dozen or so, but is back in Group 4 – and also moving up to the North – after three seasons in Group 5. When the NJSIAA added the extra group, the Bombers stayed back in Group 4 while rivals like Piscataway moved up to Group 5. They won the North 5 title three seasons ago, beating North Brunswick for the sectional title, then Williamstown in the inaugural South 5 “Regional Championship.” (Those games become group semifinals when the NJSIAA introduces Group Championships next season, in 2022.)
Sayreville and Ridge will be together in North 4, along with Montgomery, Woodbridge, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Colonia, and JFK out of the Big Central.
North Hunterdon and Cranford will follow each other from North 4 to North 3.
North Hunterdon saw a precipitous drop in enrollment, from 1,188 to 866, a fall of more than 300 students. Cranford, smaller than all but six schools in its old supersection, saw enrollment drop by 104 students.
The two will join Voorhees and Governor Livingston out of the BCC in that supersection. They will be one of the largest schools in that group.
Another eight schools will move either north or south this year, but will stay in the same group size.
How is that possible?
In the 1990s, the NJSIAA moved away from having unbalanced sections. That is, if there were five or six more teams in North 2, Group 5 than in North 1, Group 5, that’s just the way it worked out. But as the playoffs expanded, the NJSIAA evened out all sections so that teams would be competing for postseason berths against a similar number of teams.
Geographical sections are determined by Northing numbers, a measurement of how far North or South a school is. So, if North gets overloaded, for example, with schools that saw enrollment, grow, some schools might get pushed to the South, or vice versa.
If it sounds confusing, it is.
Be that as it may, seven of the eight Big Central schools making lateral moves for 2021 are going to the South.
Perth Amboy is moving from North 5 to South 5, joining fellow BCC members South Brunswick, Old Bridge, East Brunswick, Hunterdon Central, Monroe, Hillsborough, Franklin, Edison, and North Brunswick. Fully one-third of the 30 teams in the supersection are from the Big Central.
Carteret, South Plainfield, North Plainfield and Rahway are all moving from North 3 to South 3. Previously, Somerville was the only team in that supersection, so now the Pioneers will have some company. In fact, the Ramblers, Tigers and Indians are division-mates as well, which could add some juice to those matchups.
Bernards will move from South 2 to North 2, and the Mountaineers will be all alone in the supersection. Head coach Jon Simoneau is thrilled with the move, believing he’ll be competing for a playoff spot with schools that play similar schedules.
In South 2, many teams play more difficult schedules or larger schools, putting his team at a disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs. The numbers bear him out; in 2019, the Mountaineers were 7-1 and struggled to get a third seed in their section.
Finally, in Group 1, Dunellen and Roselle Park move from North to South. They’ll join Middlesex, Highland Park, Manville and South Hunterdon in the supersection. And their departure will leave Brearley and Dayton Regional as the only two Big Central teams in North 1.