HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - If you think monkeying around with ranking football teams to see who qualifies for the NJSIAA playoffs, and in what Section, Group and seed is a recent phenomenon, you could not be more wrong.
From 1919 to 1974, the champions were determined by the NJSIAA football committee, which was usually headed by the NJSIAA Executive Director. In 1974 a playoff was started, with matchups being dictated by the state based on who they thought should be in the playoffs. Some schools refused to play initially. By the 1976 season though, the four-team playoff was established, with four public school groups, in four sections.
In 1998, the field was expanded to eight teams in four divisions. In 2012, the state split the Groups into five divisions, adding eight more teams to the playoff pool. In 2019, the state decided that four sections could be better served by two “super-sections,” which were then divided in half to go to four.
And in the pursuit for playoff mania, leagues have been realigned, readjusted, and re-configured beyond recognition.
Starting in the 1990’s, a rift between Parochial schools and public schools sent the NJSIAA to court, and continually trying to keep the peace by realigning league. By 2010, the bitterness between the public schools and the Catholic school powers forced the NJSIAA to create separate divisions just for the Catholic school powers.
In all the squabbling, the smaller Group 1 and Group 2 schools of Bergen County were swept into the change. A proposal to create a Football Super Conference, and the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference (NJIC) decision not to join, set up the current day NJIC.
From 1932 to 2009, Hasbrouck Heights had played football in one version or another of the Bergen County Scholastic League. In 1919, they started in the Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League, before alternating years as an independent and a member of the BCSL until joining for good in 1932.
In 2010, the NJSIAA created the NJIC out of what had formerly been the BCSL American, BCSL Olympic and Bergen Passaic Scholastic League. The Big North was also created, as the two new conferences would replace 11 leagues with two ‘super-conferences. Hasbrouck Heights was now a part of the NJIC.
Now, in 2015, the conferences were being asked to join the North Jersey Super Football Conference, a football only league that would align teams based on size. The Big North, which consisted of primarily larger schools, voted yes.
In August 2015, by a vote of 28-6, with three abstentions and one school absent, the NJIC decided not to join the Super Conference. The move was, in some circles criticized, saying that it would make the Super Conference would be “big-time” football, while the NJIC would be looked at as inferior.
“Call it a vote of pride,” said NJIC Executive Director Stan Fryczynski stated to the media at the time. “The member schools in the NJIC felt like we already had it together, and we can figure out whatever problems might arise.’
Looking back, Fryczynski shared some of the collective perspective of the schools in the league.
“We were concerned that many of our member schools were not going to benefit from the Super Conference schedule,’ Frycznski stated. “In fact, we felt as though we were fillers. We voted to reject membership and control our own destiny. We know a lot of people thought we were perhaps a bit foolish and in fact, others were highly annoyed we did not join the SFC (Super Football Conference.”
"This is when Charlie Voorhees (Secaucus) put forth the playoff theory," Fryczynski stated. “We looked over a model without actual schools being named on it. The initial thought was if everyone liked the model, then we had to understand and all buy in that this was going to be the only way we could save small school football and also be allowed to have jurisdiction over our own programs. Our concern was that it would be too easy to be swallowed up by the larger conference and get lost in the shuffle. The prevailing thought was that we could better administer to our football programs on the existing conference platform.”
For 2016, the NJIC would roll out a novel scheduling concept for football. The 28 football teams would be split into four seven- team divisions, playing six games within the division, and meet in post “regular season” games the final two weeks. For the division winners, they would meet in a final four style playoff, and a regular season champion would be crowned. Furthermore, each team would be given a bye during the regular season.
“One of the major revisions in the schedule was the bye week,” Fryczynski said. “This was not universally accepted by every school in the beginning. The bye was there because it was the only way we could make the football schedule work."
“However, after the first season of implementation, just about every school wanted to make certain that we keep it in place. Like the NFL, our football people discovered that a week off during the season was a great way to catch their breath and heal up. A couple of schools opted to find an independent contest, but not many.”
If one thing is a constant in high school sports, especially football, it is that things are constantly changing. There are still people pushing for the NJSIAA to play to one group champion in football. In 2018, the state moved one step closer with the Bowl Championship games at MetLife Stadium.
The Super Football Conference also created the Ivy League for football programs struggling to compete in their current division, can compete against schools in the same shape they are in. The NJIC has followed suit, with the Union Division, scheduled to start in 2020.
Further the NJIC has had to deal with Ridgefield not fielding a varsity team since 2016, and Queen of Peace closing following the 2016 school year. Butler was added in 2018. Ridgefield is bringing back football for 2020, either on its own, or as part of a three-way co-op with Palisades Park/Leonia.
“Have there been some bumps in the road?” Fryczynski reflected. “Most certainly (there)have been. But, by remaining in control of our own football programs, we felt we could (and did) make the necessary repairs and schedule tweaking on a season-by-season basis. It was the thought process that sometimes bigger is not better.”
Since the league started, it has won the following football titles.
- 3 North 1, Group 1 Championships
- 2 North 2 Group 1 Championships,
- 2 NJSIAA Group 1 Bowl Championships
- 1 North 1, Group 2 Championship,
- 2 North 2, Group 2 Championship
- 1 NJSIAA Group 2 Bowl Championship
All in just four seasons.
"We have some very good people in place throughout the conference," Fryczynski said. "Some real key people serving on our Executive Committee. Overall I sense a true spirit of conference pride. Now that we figured out all of the hard stuff, we have been eager to get ourselves involved in improvement and also branching out."
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