Complete with new divisions for 2022 – with the league still in the process of choosing names for them – the Big Central Conference has released its schedule for the next football season, less than a month after the book was closed on 2021.
The past season was the first “full” season for the fledgling superconference, formed by the merger of the Mid-State and Greater Middlesex Conferences. The trend in the state has been to see these types of mergers, which tends to make scheduling easier if there aren’t enough similar teams in a smaller conference. The Shore Conference and the NJIC have been the lone holdouts in that regard.
With 59 teams – following the departure of Warren Hills – there are eleven five-team divisions, with one four-team division. That’s a departure from last year, which saw two divisions of five teams each, eight divisions with six teams each, and one – Division 4 – with eight teams.
That means the majority of teams have four division games, with four crossovers scheduled. The league believes this will give greater flexibility in terms of scheduling when it comes to meeting the state’s criteria for playoff qualification, in terms of quality of opponents.
For example, Brearley – a Group 1 school and a playoff team in 2021 – has divisional games against three schools that didn’t make the playoffs. But out of conference, they will play Manville – a solid team which was 6-2 but didn’t make the playoffs, hurt by the NJSIAA’s system – South Hunterdon, Middlesex and Dunellen. The Eagles and Blue Jays made the playoffs this season, while Dunellen did not.
Teams have an option to play a ninth game in Week Zero, the weekend of August 26th. Edison took advantage of that, signing up for the Battle of the Beach showcase in Ocean City, where they’ll play Cedar Creek that Sunday. The Pirates have won 15 straight dating back to 2020, and won the South Group 3 regional championship this year.
Following are the new divisions, announced publicly for the first time today by the Big Central Conference. League President Scott Miller says the divisions are yet to be named, with that process ongoing. The following is corrected to add Sayreville.
- Elizabeth, Somerville, St. Joseph-Metuchen, Union, Westfield
- Bridgewater-Raritan, Hillsborough, Hunterdon Central, Phillipsburg, Ridge
- East Brunswick, Monroe, Old Bridge, Piscataway, South Brunswick
- Edison, Franklin, New Brunswick, North Brunswick, Sayreville
- Colonia, JFK, Linden, Perth Amboy, Woodbridge
- Montgomery, North Plainfield, Plainfield, Watchung Hills
- Cranford, Rahway, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summit
- Carteret, Governor Livingston, JP Stevens, North Plainfield, South Plainfield
- Bernards, Bound Brook, Delaware Valley, South River, Voorhees
- Hillside, Johnson, Metuchen, New Providence, Roselle
- Brearley, Dayton, Highland Park, Roselle Park, Spotswood
- Belvidere, Dunellen, Manville, Middlesex, South Hunterdon
There are a few notable moves in the divisions, including Somerville moving from what was Division 3 (all Group 3 schools) into a grouping with non-public St. Joe’s, as well as Group 5’s in Elizabeth, Westfield, and Union. Such a move could help Somerville for playoff standing in 2022.
Plainfield – a Group 5 which had perhaps a breakout year in 2021, going 5-5 – is now in a division of some smaller schools, with Montgomery and North Plainfield in Group 4, while Watchung Hills is a Group 5. That could help the Cardinals continue their success.
St. Thomas Aquinas – which was unbeaten until a first-round playoff loss to South Jersey powerhouse St. Joseph-Hammonton in Non-Public B, and shutout its first seven opponents – gets a tougher division slate, facing Group 3 schools Cranford, Rahway, and Summit, as well as Group 4 Scotch Plains.
JP Stevens, on the other hand, comes down from one of the Group 5 divisions to face the likes of Carteret, Governor Livingston, North Plainfield and South Plainfield, all Group 3 schools. The Hawks have lost 23 straight dating back to a 4-6 campaign in 2018. Their last win came on October 26 of that year, 29-14 against Monroe.
Click below to download the entire Big Central Conference 2022 schedule, as provided to Central Jersey Sports Radio by the league. Please note that the league sets the schedules for Weeks One through Eight, so Week Zero games – which are scheduled at the discretion of individual schools – are not included here.