By Phil Anastasia
In a surprising and seemingly contradictory move, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association ruled Wednesday that non-public football teams can continue to compete for state championships.
In a near-unanimous vote, NJSIAA's the executive committee rejected a proposal from its advisory committee to create sectional tournaments in non-public football and eliminate state championship competition.
The executive committee voted 28-0 with one abstention to “keep the status quo” in non-public football, in the words of NJSIAA legal counsel Stephen Goodell.
The decision marks a dramatic reversal from the NJSIAA’s state position last spring, when the advisory committee recommended changing the non-public playoff system to match the public-school playoff system – and also to adhere to the organization’s constitution.
At the time, NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko noted that the non-public playoff system, which was instituted in 1993, was in violation of the organization’s constitution, which prohibits football teams from playing for state championships.
“This group (the executive committee) decided to overrule that,” Timko said Wednesday of the organization’s decision to contradict its own constitution.
In other news, the NJSIAA confirmed that the five South public championship games would be held again at Rowan. The South Jersey 5 title game will be Friday night, Nov. 30 and the South Jersey 1, 2, 3 and 4 title games will be Saturday, Dec. 1 -- in that order.
NJSIAA associate director Jack DuBois, who oversees football, said that the football committee recommended against sectional play for the non-publics because only 37 schools play the sport.
“With 37 teams in four groups, you really need state-wide competition,” DuBois said.
Timko said there also was concern that the creation of sectional brackets such as South A and B and North A and B would create fields with too much disparity in group size.
“You might have a Group 1 playing against a Group 3 or a Group 2 playing against a Group 4,” Timko said.
In addition, there was believed to be strong resistence from North Jersey schools that currently classified in NP 3 against a restructuring that would have placed them in a North A bracket with Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic, among others.
Public-school football is the only NJSIAA sport that doesn’t compete for state championships. NJSIAA officials, none of whom were with the organization when the football playoff system was introduced in 1974, believe that a ban on state-championship play was added as a constitutional amendment at that time because of concerns that state-title games would marginalize Thanksgiving Day games.
A proposal to change the constitution to allow for state finals in public-school football was defeated by the general membership in December, 2010.
Camden Catholic coach Gil Brooks said he was a supporter of state-championship games for non-public teams. His team made the Non-Public 2 state final in 2011 and is regarded as a strong contender in Non-Public 3 this season.
Wednesday’s move will have a major impact on South Jersey programs such as Paul VI and St. Augustine Prep, since they are classified in Non-Public 4 with national powers such as Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic.
Under the rejected proposal for sectional tournaments for non-publics, Paul VI and St. Augustine would have competed in South A and not competed against those North Jersey powerhouses.
“It’s a good thing,” St. Augustine coach Mark Reardon said of the continuation of state-championship games for non-public programs.
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.