There is a growing problem in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference (NJIC) when it comes to football - teams not having enough players to field varsity football teams each year. The conference, already having to the adjust to loss of Queen of Peace High School as a member due to its closure at the end of last school year, announced on July 26 that Ridgefield High School would not be playing varsity football in 2017, but would compete at a Junior Varsity level.
As a result, teams in the Meadowlands Division (where Ridgefield played) will be playing a cross-over game against teams in the Liberty Division, where Queen of Peace played. Impacted by this change is Hasbrouck Heights High School will now pick up Hawthorne High School as a cross-over rival in 2017. Hawthorne finished 6-3 in 2016, just missing the Group II playoffs a year ago. Ridgefield was in 0-7 last season, ending their season when injuries depleted its' roster.
Of more concern should be that there is a continuing problem with the smaller Group I schoolz being able to field football teams on a consistent basis. There are rumblings that other Group I schools are having trouble getting to the player participation numbers required to play a varsity schedule. And at the youth football level, some of the towns that feed the NJIC schools did not have enough players to play at the senior level a year ago.
The NJIC’s novel approach a year ago of playing six regular season games, with two bowl games within its four divisions was one of the more interesting developments locally for high school football in a while. But if the conference keeps losing members, it might be a short experiment.
When asked about two schools not fielding varsity football teams in 2017, NJIC Executive Director Stan Fryczynski was confident that the NJIC would continue to be able to keep its end of season bowl alignment.
"We will handle the schedule from within the conference and realign as necessary, " Fryczynski stated. "We intend to fully preserve the playoff system and conference championship. We have a formula in place that we will use, and already have used with Queen of Peace and Ridgefield, to realign as necessary.
“We recognize that we may always stand to possibly lose a team, due to lack of players or injuries, that is sometimes the way of life of Group 1 and Group 2 football. Football is undergoing a participation decline throughout the state, it's not just an NJIC issue.
“I throw a reminder out there that we bring Butler into the conference at the start of the 2018-19 school year. They have a strong football tradition and this will indeed bolster our schedule.
We have faced these problems in the past. It is something that is not foreign to us, so we will address each circumstance as it arises. The bottom line that we feel that preserving our level of football and containing it within the conference best serves our member schools."
To Fryczynski’s point about football’s declining participation rate, West Windsor-Plainsboro-North, a Group 4 school, was also required to drop varsity football this past week as well, as they too could not get enough players.
Not having high school varsity football in Hasbrouck Heights or Wood-Ridge is unthinkable. Hopefully, it stays that way.