The West Jersey Football League is the home of champions.
Too many champions, actually.
For the most part, the two-year-old league has represented positive change for South Jersey football. It’s created new divisional rivalries, alleviated scheduling problems and afforded an emerging Group 4 power such as Williamstown with an opportunity to stretch its legs against programs of similar size and strength.
All good stuff.
There have been two obvious issues. One is an easy fix. The schedules have been drastically front-loaded with division games. That’s created numerous situations in the last two years when division titles have been decided by the middle of October, if not sooner.
The other issue is related: Too many divisions. The 65-team conference has 13 divisions. There should be 10, tops.
What’s wrong with six-team divisions? Or seven-team divisions? Five or six division games adds depth and drama to the race, and still leaves three or four cross-division games for variety and traditional matchups.
The WJFL Liberty division has four teams. Florence won the title on Oct. 6 with a 3-0 record.
There’s something wrong with winning a division with a 3-0 record. Or even a 4-0 record, which is what happens most of the time in the WJFL since most divisions have five teams.
The one division with six teams is the Royal. And guess what? That division won’t be decided until Thanksgiving, when Triton plays Timber Creek in a cross-district clash of teams likely to sport 4-0 division records.
The American division also will be decided on Thanksgiving, when 3-0 Williamstown plays 3-0 Washington Township. But the majority of divisions were either decided or had teams that clinched ties for the title two weeks before Halloween.
It’s not easy to go 3-0 or 4-0 and win a division title. But it should be even tougher. Winning a division title should be a season-long challenge, filled with games against other title contenders and dark horses and upset-minded spoilers.
That hardly happens in the WJFL. The league, in its initial form, succumbed to the youth-sports syndrome of trying to create too many opportunities for trophies – more divisions, more champions, more banners to hang in more gymnasiums.
This is New Jersey, too – the home-rule capital of the universe. We already have too many districts. Now we have too many divisions in a new football conference.
WJFL president Bud Kowal, the athletic director at Ewing, says the conference will look at making some changes before the next two-year schedule cycle is set to start in the 2012 season.
“Enrollment/strength of program will definitely cause some changes,” Kowal said in an e-mail.
I say the WJFL should re-configure to 10 divisions. It should be harder to win a title, with more games with more at stake in late October and early November.
Here's one possible re-alignment:
American: Cherokee, Eastern, Williamstown, Washington Township, Lenape, Shawnee.
National: Cherry Hill East, Clearview, Pennsauken, Winslow, Triton, Paul VI, Timber Creek.
Constitution: Camden Catholic, Cherry Hill West, Moorestown, Seneca, Camden, Woodrow Wilson.
Royal: Cumberland, Delsea, Kingsway, Highland, Gloucester Catholic, Woodstown, Deptford.
Diamond: Penns Grove, Glassboro, Pennsville, Salem, Schalick, Burlington City, New Egypt.
Freedom: Palmyra, Maple Shade, Gloucester, Pitman, Riverside, Clayton, Wildwood.
Patriot: Bishop Eustace, Holy Cross, Burlington Township, Cinnaminson, Delran, Willingboro.
Liberty: Bordentown, Florence, Ewing, Robbinsville, Pemberton, Lawrence.
Colonial: Allentown, Hopewell, Northern Burlington, Princeton, Hamilton West, Nottingham, Highstown.
Capitol: Steinert, Notre Dame, Rancocas Valley, Trenton, West Windsor North, West Windsor South.
Perfect? Of course not. There likely would be some travel concerns among some of the smaller schools in the Diamond and Freedom, among other issues sure to arise.
But it initiates new rivalries, gives some struggling Group 1 programs the chance to face teams in similar situations and, best of all, creates divisions with depth, diversity and some serious competition for the right to hang that banner in the gymnasium.
-- Phil Anastasia