Football: NJSIAA wants to create Group 5

Timber Creek probably won’t able to defend its South Jersey Group 3 title in football this season.

That’s because Timber Creek likely will be in South Jersey Group 4, along with Hammonton, Moorestown, Seneca and several other schools that have been in South Jersey Group 3.

And large-school powers such as Cherokee, Washington Township and Williamstown will be in a new classification, Group 5.

In what could be the most significant change to New Jersey football since the creation of the playoff system in 1974, the NJSIAA is likely to add a fifth group to each section – and the new alignment probably will be in place for the 2012 season.

“This provides more opportunities, and that’s what we’re all about,” said NJSIAA associate director Jack DuBois, who oversees football.

DuBois announced the plan to create a Group 5 at the NJSIAA’s executive committee meeting on Wednesday. The proposal was approved by the Program Review committee by a 5-0 vote with one abstention on Wednesday morning, and the first reading was passed unanimously by the executive committee on Wednesday afternoon.

If the proposal’s second reading is approved by the executive committee in May, the change will take effect for the 2012 football season.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Shawnee coach Tim Gushue, whose team would move “down” from the old South Jersey Group 4 to the new South Jersey Group 4.

Group 5 would be created for football only. DuBois said there was strong sentiment for the additional group because it would increase the number of playoff teams in the state from 128 to 160, reduce the number of consolation games and narrow the size-differential between teams competing for the same titles.

“It’s another opportunity for more teams and more student athletes,” DuBois said.

In another football development, the NJSIAA’s advisory committee approved a proposal to repeal the by-law that allows non-public programs to compete for state championships.

That proposal will be presented to the executive committee in May. If approved by the executive committee, the proposal will be presented to the general membership in December.

A majority vote by the general membership would eliminate state playoffs for non-public teams and create sectional titles in four groups – South A and B and North A and B – for the 2013 season.

Under the new format for public schools, Clearview and Triton also would move “down” from the old South Group 4 to the new South Group 4. Pennsauken, which won the South Jersey 4 title last season, would be shifted to Central Jersey Group 4.

The new South Jersey Group 5 would feature the 15 largest programs. South Jersey Group 4 would include the next-15 largest, South Jersey Group 3 the next-15 largest, and so on.

Under the current format, most groups have 19 schools.

“It’s really not that much change except for Shawnee,” said Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson, whose team went 12-0 in winning the South Jersey Group 3 title last season and looms as the preseason No. 1 team in South Jersey in 2012. “Looks like change for change’s sake.”

One other significant change involves several Group 1 programs. To balance the groups, traditional South Jersey teams Burlington City, Haddon Township, Maple Shade and Palmyra would be placed in Central Jersey 1.

Here’s the makeup of football groups if the NJSIAA creates a Group 5:

South Jersey 5

Absegami, Atlantic City, Cherokee, Cherry Hill East, Eastern, Egg Habor Twp., Lenape, Millville, Rancocas Valley, Southern, Toms River East, Toms River North, Vineland, Washington Twp., Williamstown

South Jersey 4

Cherry Hill West, Clearview, Cumberland, Hammonton, Kingsway, Lacey, Mainland, Moorestown, Oakcrest, Seneca, Shawnee, Timber Creek, Toms River South, Triton, Winslow Twp.

South Jersey 3

Bridgeton, Burlington Twp., Camden, Central, Delsea, Deptford, Highland, Lower Cape May, Manchester Twp., Ocean City, Pemberton, Pinelands, Point Pleasant Boro, Sterling, Woodrow Wilson

South Jersey 2

Barnegat, Bordentown, Buena, Cinnaminson, Collingswood, Delran, Haddon Heights, Haddonfield, Middle Twp., Overbrook, Pleasantville, Robbinsville, West Deptford, Willingboro, Woodstown

South Jersey 1

Audubon, Cedar Creek, Clayton, Gateway, Glassboro, Gloucester, Lindenwold, Paulsboro, Penns Grove, Pennsville, Pitman, Salem, Schalick, Wildwood, Woodbury

* Central Jersey 4 includes Pennsauken

* Central Jersey 3 includes Northern Burlington

* Central Jersey 1 includes Burlington City, Florence, Haddon Twp., Maple Shade, Palmyra and Riverside

* Phil Anastasia