ROXBURY, NJ – A major overhaul to the state’s high school football playoffs and seeding system, approved by the NJSIAA’s member schools at their annual business meeting this week, are a good move, said Roxbury High School Football Coach Cosmo Lorusso.
Becaue of the changes, public school football programs throughout the state will play to a two-champion per group tournament, which amounts to one game more than what is currently played. Traditional “section champions” will be crowned during the week prior to Thanksgiving at neutral sites throughout the state. However, the winners of each section will play in designated “bowl games” two weeks later.
The non-public tournament will also change. The three non-public groups will have 12-team tournaments, with the top 6 seeds getting a bye to the second round, and will play to a group champion.
The proposal is set to take effect for the 2018 season pending approval from the NJSIAA’s football leagues and conferences committee, football committee and executive committee. According to sources, all three committees are expected to approve the proposal.
Nobody Left Out Due to Geography
"The new format that was just passed eliminates weak sections in the state where teams with losing records have made it into the playoffs," said Lorusso. "For example, with our 78 power points this year, we did not qualify for state play in our section, yet we would have been the 5th seed in the Southern Group 4 bracket and the 7th seed in North Jersey Section 2. This new format means the best 32 teams in each group qualify for state play and no one gets left out because of geography."
According to the approved proposal, titled the “NJ United Playoff Proposal” and submitted by the North Jersey Super Football Conference and a coalition of central and south Jersey schools, the regular season schedule will be condensed by one week to accommodate the extra playoff game.
Teams will play a minimum of eight regular season games across nine weeks, each counting towards the team’s power point totals. The season will officially start with an optional Week 0. Should a team opt to not play a Week 0 game, they will have to play eight straight games from Week 1 through Week 8.
The NJSIAA State Tournament will begin on Nov. 2, with the section finals occurring the weekend of Nov. 16 at neutral sites across the state.
After a week off to preserve the traditional Thanksgiving rivalry games, the 20 public school section champions will play in bowl games against to cut the list down to 10 bowl winners.
"The Bowl Games at the end of the season will make for some interesting games that will transcend sections," said Lorusso. "We never see a school from Morris County playing a school from Burlington County. But now we might be able to see that and get a better picture of where the best football in the state is being played."
Lorusso added that while "there are people touting the fact that teams could play 10 regular season games," he said he doesn't see that happening too often. "To do that a team would want to pick up a consolation game after being eliminated from the playoffs," Lorusso said. "I don't think many coaches would do that."
An Aug. 6 Start for Pre-Season?
He said another issue pertains to schools that don't play a Thanksgiving Day game but want a 9-game regular season schedule. "They will have to start Week 0, which means that they will start pre-season on Aug 6," said the coach. "I don't think starting that early is something that is attractive to players or their families and it is certainly not fair to coaches who would have to start a week earlier with no additional pay."
Roxbury will play an 8-game regular season schedule next year, Lorusso said. "Our 9th game will either be a playoff game or a consolation game," he said. "But our first day of practice will be Aug. 13, which is around the time it has always been."
On top of the scheduling and playoff format, member schools also voted to allow the NJSIAA to research ways to improve the power-point system, though no recommendations were formally suggested in the approved proposal.
"The NJ United Playoff plan is a fair compromise," said Roxbury Athletic Director Stuart Mason in an email. "And now that it has passed, there is more work to be done by the committee and the NJSIAA. The problems with the current powerpoint system need to be corrected to ensure the most deserving teams make the playoffs."
New Jersey is currently the only state in the country that does not play to one champion per school size. According to TAPinto sources, that could change in the next few years if this scheduling format is deemed a success. However, changes to the NJSIAA’s constitution and by-laws would have to be made, as they currently prevent group champions in football.