ROBBINSVILLE, NJ – Major change is coming for New Jersey high school wrestling after the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Executive Committee successfully passed three rule proposals that will change the culture of the sport in New Jersey. 

The committee passed proposals to add two programs to the each of the team tournament brackets (going form six teams to eight), add fourth place regional finishers to the state championship bracket and realign the district and regional participants to spread out the state’s top programs.

These proposals will have to be passed again at the Executive Committee’s October meeting in order for the changes to go into effect for the 2016-17 season.

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NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko told NJ Advanced Media the proposed changes were necessary to make the championship sport better.

“Coaches know that there was a problem out there and they wanted us to fix it,” Timko said. “Without hesitation this is good for wrestling.”

The two biggest changes involve the fourth place regional finisher and the district/region realignment. 

By allowing the wrestler who comes in fourth place at the region tournament to advance to the NJSIAA State Championship, the NJSIAA is giving 112 additional wrestlers the experience of a state championship. Additionally, this proposed addition would change the format of the state championship, requiring all region winners to compete in the first round. In previous years, all region winners received a first round bye.

"I'm sad to see our old District 3 opponents, made up of mostly the old SCIL, getting split up," Sparta High School Wrestling Coach Frank Battaglia said. "I looked forward to the District tournament each year because there of the mutual respect between coaches and wrestlers. I'm going to miss that."

According to the NJSIAA, changes to the district/region tournament alignment will create better competition at all levels of the individual tournament. According to NJ Advance Media, the NJSIAA created a formula to redraw the district/region lines based on five-year totals or averages of state championship medals from every region. average power point number and teams ranked in the Top 25.

Sparta will now be in Region 1 with 39 teams.  In District 3 Sparta will be going up against Demarest, Don Bosco Prep, Emerson-Park Ridge, Indian Hills, Mahwah, Pascack Hills, Vernon, Wallkill Valley and West Milford.

The current region host is Wallkill Valley.  Six of the schools are new to this region. Pascack Hills, Sparta, Vernon and Wallkill Valley have competed in this grouping in the past. 

The additions to the Team Tournament give an opportunity to two more programs to win a state championship. In previous seasons, only the top six programs in each section were placed in the bracket, with the Top 2 teams getting byes to the semifinals. In the proposed eight-team bracket, there would be no byes.

"It's a plus to see the NJSIAA is looking to make positive and fair changes to NJ wrestling, but I think it would have been more beneficial if they kept coaches informed and asked for some input other than one survey," Battaglia said.  "Some of the methods they chose to devise the realignment can be improved on for the future. Furthermore, the push for this year is frustrating because our schedules are set and many teams do not have head to head competition within their new district. In the end, it is what it is. Sparta will stay competitive and make the best of it."

The 2016-17 wrestling season officially opens with practices scheduled for Nov. 21. Opening day for regular season matches is Dec. 16, while the NJSIAA Wrestling Team Tournament begins on Feb. 6. The wrestling season culminates in the individual state championship tournament on March 3-5, 2017 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Jennifer Dericks contributed to this story