Football: What killed state playoffs

 

Uncertainty.

Fear of the unknown.

That's what killed the proposal to expand the playoffs to the state championship level for public school football teams Monday at the NJSIAA's annual business meeting.

Ironically, a 58-percent majority of schools in attendance voted for the proposal. The vote was 167 in favor and 102 against, with three absentions.

But because the proposal was to change the wording in the constitution, it needed a two-thirds majority. A simple majority -- or even 58 percent -- was not enough.

People are wary of change. But they are especially wary of blind change.

And that was the problem.

Brick Twp. AD Bill Bruno, who was an author of the proposal, said he has  six versions of a plan to expand the playoffs on his desk. He wanted to wait until the general membership approved the constitutional change -- which would have allowed a proposal to go forward -- before travelling around the state, talking with officials and coming up with a popular proposal that probably would have sailed through next December (when only a majority would have been needed).

But because people were asked to vote on a change without any real sense of what it's impact would be -- start date, end date, impact on Thanksgiving -- the more skeptical among the membership probably were more inclined to vote thumbs-down.

"It was the unknown," NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko said.

I think Bruno and Co., while well meaning, made a mistake by not making clear what they planned to propose for expanded playoffs. In fact, they could have bundled the proposal with the call for the change to the constitution -- which would have made everthing clear and MIGHT have resulted in state championships in 2012.

That's what they likely will do the next time. But that can't happen until December 2014, at the earliest. That's a long wait.

Bruno said he wanted to preserve Thanksgiving Day football, or least leave that decision "an individual school choice."

The most likely plan would have moved the start of the season up a week -- from the Friday after Labor Day to the Friday before -- eliminated the bye week and created a three-games-in-10-days scenario for successful playoff teams that wanted to keep their Thanksgiving Day rivalry -- a playoff game the Friday before the holiday, the annual game on Thanksgiving eve, and the next playoff game on the Sunday after the holiday.

That's a lot. And there are people who think that eventually, the Thanksgiving Day games will fade away, or severely shrink in significance.

There's another issue. If the season starts Sept. 2, say, then a team could be 3-5 on Oct. 21. If they play a consolation game on Oct. 28, do they sit around for a month before playing their 10th game on Thanksgiving?

That's a tough set-up for non-playoff teams (which are the majority every year, remember). There also was some sentiment by basketball and wrestling folks to vote against the proposal because they thought an expanded football season would encroach on their sport.

All legitimate concerns. But the real problem was that proponents of state championships in football never addressed them -- spelling out just how they saw expanded playoffs taking shape.

So skeptics were free to imagine the worse and vote against something this state should have instituted 35 years ago.

-- Phil Anastasia

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