NJSIAA Set to Vote on Expanding Football Playoffs to Include State Championships
Since 1931, there has been a polarizing line in Article IX of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association constitution that has prevented the state of New Jersey from crowning true state champions in football.
"No state championships shall be declared in football" is the sentence that has made New Jersey one of just two states, along with New York, that does not play down to state champions in football.
But that could all change next week.
On Wednesday, the NJSIAA introduced a ballot proposal that would eliminate that line from the constitution and pave the way for public school state championship football games.
“NJSIAA staff, in conjunction with the New Jersey Football Coaches Association, has proposed to amend the NJSIAA Constitution provision which prevents a state championship from being declared in football. Under the proposal, the provision prohibiting a state championship in football would be removed from the Constitution. The Advisory Committee and the Executive Committee have endorsed the proposal.”
Making a change to the NJSIAA constitution requires a two-thirds majority to pass. The member schools are voting by mail, fax or email and the votes must be received by Friday. The results will be announced at the NJSIAA's executive committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
If the proposal passes, state championship games would be played beginning in 2022.
Prior to 1974, state sectional championships were declared by the NJSIAA without any postseason games. The NJSIAA playoff system began in 1974 and teams played down to sectional champions in 16 public school sections and four non-public sections. Beginning in 1995, the non-public playoffs changed from sectionals to group playoffs, which has since technically violated the NJSIAA's ban on state championships being awarded in football. In 2012, Group 5 was added for public schools, bringing the total number of sectional championships to 20 in addition to the four non-public state championships. There are now three non-public sections after Groups 1 and 2 were consolidated into one group in 2015.
The NJSIAA expanded the public postseason in 2018 with the addition of "Regional Championship Games", which are essentially state semifinal games. The Central Jersey winners play the South Jersey winners and the North 1 winners play the North 2 winners in each group.
The next step is to add one more game and play down to true state champions, but that requires the constitutional change that is now being voted on. The tentative format for a season including state championships would have Weeks 1 through 8 as the regular season. Weeks 9, 10 and 11 as the sectional playoffs and Week 12 containing the state semifinals. Thanksgiving week would follow and the state championship games would be played in Week 13. This would allow schools to continue to play on Thanksgiving if they so desire.
In the Shore Conference, it is possible the eight-game regular season could include a Shore Conference Tournament beginning in 2021. This past season there were no NJSIAA playoffs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state instead used a four-team pod structure for the postseason that was mostly played within each conference. In the Shore, it put the top four teams together in a championship pod that culminated with No. 1 Wall defeating No. 2 Donovan Catholic in an unofficial Shore Conference title game.
After not having divisions for the 2020 season because of the pandemic, the Shore Conference Football Committee has created eight divisions for the 2021 season. There will be five five-team divisions and three six-team divisions. There will be a six-game regular season made up of either four or five divisional games plus one or two non-division or non-conference games.
A six-game regular season would allow the Shore Conference to conduct a two-game postseason and potentially crown a Shore Conference champion, as was the case, albeit unofficially, for the 2020 season. They hope to have a plan for a Shore Conference postseason released by the end of January.
The complete Shore Conference football schedule is expected to be released by February.