Beginning this fall, 160 high school football teams around the state will have the opportunity to win a state sectional championship, under a proposal approved by the NJSIAA Wednesday.
The NJSIAA Executive Committee approved the proposal to create a Group V designation in the four public school sections by a vote of 22-5-3 at its meeting in Robbinsville, according to Jack DuBois, NJSIAA assistant director who's in charge of football.
"This creates a greater opportunity for schools and for student-athletes," DuBois said. "It increases the number of teams playing in the playoffs from 128 to 160. At the same time, it eliminates 16 consolation games that schools didn't want to play anyway."
The proposal also allows teams whose records are under .500 to participate in the playoffs if they are needed to fill an eight-team bracket.
"We fill brackets in other sports that way, such as baseball and soccer," DuBois said.
The four sections -- North Jersey Section 1, North Jersey Section 2, Central Jersey and South Jersey -- will now have 15 teams per group instead of 19, which improves the chances of a team making the playoffs, he said.
However, according to Mahwah’s Athletic Director Roger Pelletier, the new group may actually make it more difficult for the T-Birds to make it to the playoffs. “The change is only in the playoff format, it doesn’t change the league or the schedule,” he said.
“When you shift teams based on numbers, there are going to be winners and losers. So, in Mahwah, we are most likely going from being one of the bigger Group 2 schools to one of the smaller Group 3 schools.” Pelletier said Mahwah’s record will now be compared to larger districts when determining whether or not the team qualifies to play in the playoffs.
“It’s a tough game, so it’s always difficult to make the playoffs, but this gives us an additional obstacle to getting there,” Pelletier said. The last time the T-Birds made the playoffs was 2010, when the team fell to RiverDell in a first round game.
Though the official groupings have not yet been released, Pelletier said he has a good idea of the schools Mahwah will be compared to for playoff placement.
“This is a statewide change, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a model that is used across other sports as well,” Pelletier predicted. If the new grouping system was implemented in other sports, he said it would “generally have the same effect” of making runs for the playoffs more difficult for Mahwah teams.
DuBois said the finalized list of team groupings won't be available until after the NJSIAA receives school enrollment numbers from the state, which they expect to receive sometime in June.