EDISON, NJ – In a groundbreaking move, New Jersey high school athletic directors and principals voted to implement new policy changes across high school athletics at the state’s annual membership meeting on Monday at the Pines Manor in Edison.
According to the NJSIAA, of the five proposals facing a public vote, member schools voted to pass four new mandates, while failing to pass a new student transfer policy.
Specifically, major changes were approved to separate public and non-public schools two of the NJSIAA’s major sports: football and wrestling.
“The voting was a clear message that the voting body believes the non-public schools are working with the playing field tilted significantly to their advantage,” New Providence athletic director Rocco Constantino said. “Similar legislation had been voted down in the past, but I think frustration among the public schools has built significantly. The system was just not equitable and something had to change.”
Beginning in the 2016-2017 seasons, non-public football schools will split into their own respective conferences, with a statewide, non-public conference being created. In previous seasons, non-public schools were dispersed at the school’s discretion into various conferences, with a majority competing against public schools for conference titles and state tournament seeding.
The public schools can now compete on a more level playing field, with teams in similar population and financial situations, Constantino said. Even though the change won’t play much of a factor in New Providence, it could have a “trickle-down effect.
“Some of the teams in Central, Group 2 had played non-public schools during the regular season and now may not have to in the future,” Constantino said. “That could create more competition when figuring out power points among the group.”
Additionally, the NJSIAA membership voted to create wrestling district and regional tournaments specifically for non-public schools. Traditionally, the entire state has been split up into 32 districts where the top 4 competitors in each weight class advance to eight regions. The top 3 finishers then advance to the state championships in Atlantic City.
Under the newly approved policy, public schools are now split up into 28 districts and seven regions, with four districts set-up for non-public schools feeding into a statewide non-public region.
While the change won’t really effect any local school’s wrestling standing, powerhouse South Plainfield head wrestling coach Kevin McCann said the change could water down the state tournament.
“I’m against the separation of public and non-public,” McCann said. “I think New Jersey has the best and toughest state tournament in wrestling. I feel, in the long run, this is going to water down the weight classes.”
Membership schools also voted against amending the state’s transfer policy. The change being intended to curtail what some officials across the state view as a transfer epidemic.
The transfer proposal, brought in front of NJSIAA membership by the Public-Nonpublic Committee, would have mandated all varsity athletes transferring to a new school to sit out for 30 days and receive a post-season ban. The only exception would be for a “valid change in residence” from one “public school to another.”
According to the committee, had the proposal passed, it would have prevented a large number of students transferring from public to private schools.
“I think student-athletes are becoming more and more accepting of sitting out 30 days, especially the ones who play on high-level AAU or club teams,” Constantino said. “This rule may keep some of the fringe players from transferring, but if a top-notch student-athlete wants to transfer, he or she would probably see the ramifications as a minor inconvenience.”
Additionally, two minor changes related to season opening dates were also passed. Beginning in 2016, football practices will begin on August 10, with all other sports beginning on August 15. These dates move up to August 9 and August 14 in 2017.
A vote also passed allowing Winter sports to utilize “Pre-Thanksgiving” tryouts.