By Phil Anastasia
In response to popular demand, the NJSIAA might move sectional title games in boys' and girls' basketball back to neutral sites.
But the change might not happen until 2016, if at all, NJSIAA director Larry White, who oversees the sport for the organization, said Thursday.
"That might be a more practical start for this," White said of 2016 being the appropriate time to implement his plan to stage sectional title games for boys and girls' basketball at one college site in a format similar to the public-school football finals.
White said a plan has emerged from the NJSIAA's basketball committee to change the current format, in which the higher seeded team hosts the sectional final.
That has resulted in situations such as the Pitman at Schalick final in Group 1 on Monday and the Camden at Pemberton final in Group 2 on Tuesday, when there was far more demand for tickets than seats in the gymnasium.
"I know people have been getting shut out and are not happy," White said.
There have been similar situations all over the state for the last several years. Last season's Pitman at Paulsboro final in Group 1 and Sterling at Medford Tech final in Group 2 were played in small gyms that shut out hundreds of fans who wanted to see the boys' basketball games.
"We've been hearing about it a lot," White said of complaints to the NJSIAA.
The NJSIAA switched to its current format about five years ago after staging title games at neutral sites for years. White said the NJSIAA was having trouble finding enough schools willing to host the games.
"It wasn't their (home) crowd and a lot of schools didn't want to deal with the headache," White said.
White's plan would call for the state tournaments to start on the final Saturday in February -- which would be Feb. 28 in 2015 and Feb. 27 in 2016.
Under the scenario, boys' teams in Group 2 and 4 and girls' teams in Group 1 and 3 (the state would flip-flop the groups' start dates every year) would start the tournament on that Saturday and then play Tuesday and Thursday -- with the sectional final at a neutral site on the following Saturday.
White said boys' teams in Groups 1 and 3 and girls' teams in Groups 2 and 4 would play Monday, Wednesday and Friday -- with the sectional final at a neutral site on the following Sunday.
White said the plan would be to have four college serve as hosts for eight title games in each section -- a boy-girl doubleheader at noon-2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, and again at the same times on Sunday.
"That would then give those teams a little time off before the state semifinals on Wednesday and Thursday, with the state finals the following weekend just like we have them now," White said.
The non-public tournament would not be changed, White said.
White plans to present the proposal to the NJSIAA's Leagues and Conferences committee on April 3.
He hopes to get a good sense by the end of the school year whether there is enough sentiment around the state for the NJSIAA to make the change.
There are potential complications, White said.
One is that most schools in Central and North Jersey participate in county tournaments, highly popular events that traditionally have culminated on the Saturday before the start of the state tournament.
If the state tournament was pushed forward to start on that Saturday, then county tournaments would have to finish before that date -- and that could create a domino effect that would impact their regular-season schedules.
"I think that could ruffle some feathers," White said.
In South Jersey, the Cape-Atlantic League tournament title games have been held on that Saturday for the last three years. If CAL officials wanted to keep the popular tournament, they would need to move it forward, which likely would impact regular-season schedules.
White said there also could be boards of education that could be reluctant to allow public-school teams to play in sectional finals on Sunday, although the state title games in boys' and girls' basketball have been held on Sunday for years.
White said securing sites would be another task. He mentioned Rutgers Camden and Richard Stockton College as ideal locations for the South Jersey finals, as Rowan's gymnasium probably isn't large enough to accomodate the anticipated crowds.
But White said it was unclear if those sites would be available or if the schools might have other events booked for those weekends. And cost would be a consideration, since the NJSIAA would have to rent the facilties and pay for security and support staff.
White said he "personally would like to see it happen" in 2015. He's been in many over-crowded gymnasiums over teh last few years with frustrated folks stuck outside after the doors are locked. He's fielded a lot of complaints.
But he also knows it's a major change that might require some compromise and alterations in regular season schedules. So he believes it might not happen until 2016 , if then.
"There's a lot of sentiment for it but people have to look at all the implications," White said. "We'll see what the membership wants us to do and we'll take it from there."
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