ROBBINSVILLE, NJ – Major change is coming for New Jersey high school wrestling after the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (NJSIAA) Executive Committee successfully passed three rule proposals that will alter 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 from 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.
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.
“There are parts of the proposal that I think are positive and parts that are negative,” Westfield head wrestling coach Glen Kurz said. “I don't think you need to bring in region fourth place finishers and send them to Atlantic City. I love the consolation round of the regions where kids are battling for their ticket to the states. I think that match will lose something as both wrestlers are assured a trip to AC. I also don't think you need to have eight teams qualify for sectionals. I can't imagine there will be many No. 8 seeds competing with No. 1 seeds.”
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.
“I don't know whether the district and re-alignment will work,” Kurz said. “We need to wait and see how it plays out. If it evens things out, great. My main concerns are that my district now has teams from Union, Middlesex, Essex, Somerset and Hunterdon County. We don't have many head-to-heads with those teams during the season, so it will make seeding difficult for both tournaments.’
Depending on which sites are selected to host, wrestlers could be forced to travel more, Kurz pointed out.
“I’d hate to see a kid sitting on a bus for an hour before such an important event,” he said. “Also, we've hosted the district tournament since the 1960s. It would be a shame if we can no longer host. It's a good money-maker for our parent fund, and I like having my kids wrestle their district matches at home.”
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.
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.
Additional reporting by Jackie Lieberman.