First Steps Taken Toward Major Changes to High School Football Playoff Structure
A proposal to alter the New Jersey high school football playoff format took a huge first step Monday during the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association’s annual business meeting, paving the way for massing restructuring of both the playoff system and qualification process.
Member schools voted 218-78 with 12 abstentions in favor allowing schools to schedule 10 regular season games, the first step toward a playoff proposal which will extend the postseason beyond the sectional championship games, dramatically alter the how the teams are sectioned and increase the number of non-public qualifiers to 12 in each section.
The vote to allow 10 regular season games changes the NJSIAA's bylaws and was a necessary first step since it creates scheduling flexibility to implement the full playoff overhaul.
The ratified proposal still needs to pass the NJSIAA’s football leagues and conferences committee, the football committee and the executive committee, but except for some minor changes, it is expected to be cleared and go into effect for the 2018 season.
One of the main points of the new format would be to extend the playoffs by one week to create ‘bowl games’ between sectional champions. It falls short of playing down to true state champions, which cannot exist in New Jersey because Article IX of the NJSIAA’s constitution states no group champions shall be declared in football. New Jersey is the only state in the country which does not crown true state champions in football.
The seeding process for public schools will also undergo a major change. Under the new proposal, the NJSIAA will split the state in half based on its northing numbers and seed the top 16 in the northern half and the top 16 in the southern half based on power points. The northern top 16 teams would create the North 1 and North 2 sections while the top 16 in the southern half of the state would make up the central and south sections. Schools will remain separated by size into groups 1 through 5.
Once the top 32 teams (16 in the north and 16 in the south) in each group are established based on power points the NJSIAA will use its northing numbers to divide the schools into four sections. The sections will then be seeded based on power points.
In the non-public brackets, the number of teams qualifying would be expanded from eight to 12 with the top four seeds receiving first-round byes.
The regular season will run from Week 0 on Sept. 1 to Week 8 on Oct. 26. The first round of the public school playoffs along with ‘regional crossover games’ for teams that did not qualify for the playoffs will be played the weekend of Nov. 2. The first round of the non-public playoffs featuring teams seeded six through 12 will also be contested.
The weekend of Nov. 9, Week 10, will be the public school semifinals and the non-public quarterfinals. Another change will have an additional game for teams that did not make the playoffs or lost in the first round of their respective brackets. This will ensure all teams are guaranteed 10 games regardless of playoff qualification or advancement. These games will be optional. The NJSIAA will decide the opponent for a 10th game while teams playing their 11th game can schedule the opponent on their own.
The public school sectional championship games will be played the weekend of Nov. 16 (before Thanksgiving) at neutral sites while the non-public semifinals will be held the same weekend.
Thanksgiving week remains unchanged for teams who still play traditional rivalry games.
The “Bowl Championship” games featuring sectional champion vs. sectional champion and the non-public championship games will be played at neutral sites the weekend of Nov. 30.
Teams will have three options on how to play at least 10 games:
- A school can start in Week 0 and play straight through Week 8 with a playoff game or regional crossover game accounting for its 10th game.
- Schools that play Thanksgiving games would play eight times from Week 0 to Week 8, play at least one playoff game or crossover game and then play on Thanksgiving.
- Schools that don’t play on Thanksgiving can play eight times from Week 0 to Week 8. Teams making the playoffs would have a playoff game and be able to pick up an additional game if eliminated in the first round. Non-playoff teams would be assigned crossover games in Weeks and Week 10.
A school with a Thanksgiving game that plays its ninth game in Week 9 will also be able to pick up a game in Week 10 to help bridge the three-week gap to its Thanksgiving game.
There will still be a total of 20 public school sectional champions crowned across New Jersey along with three non-public group champions.
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