Out-of-state games may not count for anything, but they could affect playoff standing

One of the many tweaks to the NJSIAA’s playoff system for 2022 is the new rule about out-of-state games: they won’t count this year – at all.

That’s not entirely true; they will count toward the maximum number of games a team can play in a regular season. For public schools, that’s nine, including Thanksgiving. For non-publics, they’re allowed ten since they start the playoffs one week later this year.

But that’s it:

To put it succinctly, “For lack of a better term, it’s an exhibition game, as in every other NJSIAA sport,” says New Jersey Football Coaches’ Association Commissioner John Jacob.

What does that mean? A win or loss will certainly count toward a team’s official record, but as far as they playoffs go, it means nothing.

The change will affect not just those who play out-of-state teams, but their New Jersey opponents as well.

A team that plays an out-of-state (OOS) opponent will not get any power points or OSI value from the win. That won’t necessarily hurt them as it would have in the past because power points are no longer a running total; they’re an average, just as OSI is. Counting only seven of eight games doesn’t necessarily give a team a disadvantage. All it does is give them one less chance to increase their average. Then again, a loss could lower a team’s average. This way, there’s no gain, and no loss.

The only way it could significantly hurt a team is with the new minimum win rule to make the playoffs, which was increased to two this year. Now, a 2-6 team that has one of its wins against an OOS opponent is 1-6 in the eyes of the NJSIAA, and wouldn’t make the playoffs. Of course, one could argue a 1-6 team doesn’t belong in the playoffs anyway.

One person it will benefit is Jon Fass at Gridiron New Jersey, who’s website calculates the official playoff standings for the NJSIAA. That’s because finding the right numbers for out-of-state opponents is time consuming, and even then, not always accurate.

For power points, an OOS opponent’s group size has to be determined, and that number isn’t generally publicly available as for all other NJSIAA schools.

But at least that number can be found out. Strength Index provides even more of a challenge.

Other states don’t use Strength Index, a uniquely New Jersey thing. So the formula the last few years was to find the OOS in the national MaxPreps rankings, then find the closest NJSIAA school. If the game was on the road for the New Jersey team, the closest NJSIAA school above it in the rankings was chosen – the perception that it would be more of a challenge – and their SI value used to determine the OSI value. For a home games versus an OOS school, the closest NJSIAA school below them in the MaxPreps rankings was used. And since MaxPreps uses a completely different mathematical formula, the SI values didn’t always correspond. The next school above or below the OOS opponent might not be anywhere near each other in SI value.

Got a headache yet?

Now, let’s go back to how the NJSIAA doesn’t recognzie that out-of-state win. What about the team that plays a team that plays an OOS opponent?

They won’t get any residuals from that win, since that win didn’t count for playoff qualification.

There are eleven games this year where a public school will play an OOS team (we won’t count non-public since those playoff sections are seeded by committee, and not solely by UPR). One involves a Big Central team, so we’ll use that real life example.

South Hunterdon will play its annual rivalry game with New Hope/Solebury (PA) for the first time since 2017 when they square off on Friday night, in Week Zero. They have seven more games before the cutoff. Their opponents the rest of the year – Roselle Park, Belvidere, Middlesex, Manville, Brearley, Dunellen, and Dayton – will only get residuals from those seven.

If this was 2021, those opponents – only getting residuals from the Eagles’ first seven games – would have gotten residuals from New Hope through the Dunellen game. Now they get Roselle Park through Dayton: South Hunterdon’s last seven games, since the first one “doesn’t count.”

That could affect those teams negatively or positively, depending on if South Hunterdon wins or loses that opener. But, it’s an important distinction to make when figuring out power points and OSI.

There is one Big Central team, however, that could get hurt significantly by this. Somerville opens its first year under new head coach Ian Pace with Mastery HS of Camden, a charter school playing its first varsity season of football. (Mastery operates two dozen charter schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia.) Mastery only plays two New Jersey schools – Lakewood and another charter playing its first season, KIPP Cooper Norcross, also out of Camden.

This means Somerville can only gain, at best, six residuals with a win over Mastery. Also, since it’s their first year of football, they will start with a base Strength Index of 20. With only three NJ schools on the schedule, their SI will probably go up. Somerville is a 75.37, so unless the Pioneers win by 55, Mastery will go up. Lakewood is a 47.18, so that one could go either way. And KIPP will start at 20, so it’s the same deal there.

Bottom line: Somerville will be hurt here. Then again, they play in a very tough division, and that could make up for it.

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