Jersey football: New playoff proposal has 'bowl' games

Coach Glenn Howard and the Paulsboro football team would play in a “bowl game” after the South Jersey Group 1 championship under a new playoff proposal.

“Bowl games” that will bring New Jersey one step shy of state championships for public-school football are among the highlights of a new proposal to change the format of the sport, starting in the 2018 season.

New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association officials and backers of the proposal have been making the rounds at sectional meetings around the state this week, presenting the plan to coaches, athletic directors and principals.

The South sectional meeting is next Wednesday at Washington Township. The NJSIAA’s general membership will vote on the proposal Dec. 4.

If a majority of schools in attendance that morning at the Pines Manor in Edison vote in favor of the change, the new format will begin in 2018. If the proposal is voted down, the current system will stay in place.

West Jersey Football League president Bud Kowal, the athletic director at Ewing High School, is one of the authors of the proposal, which is a combination of two competing plans that were created in the spring — one by representatives of the WJFL as well as the Shore, Greater Middlesex, and Mid-State 38 conferences, and one by representatives of the North Jersey Super Football Conference.

“We really felt like this was a good merger of the two proposals,” Kowal said. “We believe this is a good proposal for schools in the South.”

Here are some of the highlights of the proposal:

  • Teams will play an eight-game regular season, with the schedule created by the conference.
  • There will be five playoff groups and four sections, same as the current system.
  • Eight teams will qualify for the state tournament in each group in each section, same as the current system.
  • Teams will be placed in a North and South pool in each group.
  • From those pools, the sectional fields will be created. For example, the top 16 teams in power ranking in the South pool of Group 5 will make the playoffs, with the eight southern-most schools forming the South Jersey Group 5 section and the next eight forming the Central Group 5 section.
  • That same formula will be used to create the North 1 and North 2 sections from the North pool.
  • In non-public 4 and 3, every team will qualify for the playoffs, regardless of record or power ranking, although teams will have the option of opting out of the tournament. That might apply to Non-Public 2 as well; the proposal could be tweaked based on feedback from smaller non-public schools around the state.
  • The playoffs will start in Week 9, which this season is the weekend of Nov. 3-4.
  • In non-public 4 and 3 (and non-public 2 as well if the proposal is tweaked), the first four teams in power ranking will receive a bye the first weekend of the playoffs.
  • The public-school sectional championship games will be the weekend before Thanksgiving.
  • Thanksgiving weekend will be preserved for traditional games.
  • The non-public state championship games will be the first weekend of December, same as the current format.
  • That same weekend, public-school sectional champions in each group will play in “Bowl games” in a format to be determined, perhaps South vs. Central and North 1 vs. North 2, or perhaps based on enrollment, matching the two largest sectional champions in each group and the two smallest sectional champions in each group.
  • Teams that don’t make the playoff fields will be eligible to play in crossover (consolation) games in Weeks 9 and 10, with the matchups determined by power rankings.
  • Teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs in Week 9 will be eligible to play crossover games in Week 10.
  • Teams have the option of opting out of the playoffs or the crossover games. They also can play a game Week 9 and opt out of Week 10.
  • “Power rankings” will replace “power points” in determining playoff fields. The power rankings will be based on formula that combines the traditional power-point system currently used by the NJSIAA and MaxPreps’ power rating system.

The system would bring public football to the brink of a true state championship, long a goal of many involved in the sport.

Because of the eight-game regular season, the “bowl games” would be the 12th game of the season, same as the sectional title games under the current format.

That could alleviate concerns that a tournament that ends in a state championship would involve too many games and put athletes at further risk of injury, since just 10 public-school teams would participate in a 13th game if the format is changed to match up the “bowl game” winners in the future.

But Kowal said the best thing about the proposal is the format creates opportunities for competitive games late in the season for the programs that don’t make the playoffs.

“I think it has a really good chance,” of passing, Kowal said. “It’s not just a playoff proposal. It creates a dynamic for lesser programs in need of help. There are a lot more at-risk and in-need programs than there are programs that really stand a legitimate shot of winning a sectional championship and playing in a ‘bowl’ game.

“This proposal addresses that. Those teams get an opportunity to play two games, if they chose, against similar programs. If they’re a young team, they can lay the groundwork for the next year or if they have a good group of seniors it’s a chance for them to play their last games with a real chance to win.

“It’s a positive thing for everybody.”