State Takes Major Step Toward Eliminating Tournament of Champions
The St. John Vianney girls basketball program has created a legacy by winning NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles seven times since the T of C was created in 1989 -- more than any girls program in New Jersey.
If a proposal introduced at Wednesday's meeting of the NJSIAA Executive Committee is officially passed, this coming season could be the last chance for the Lady Lancers and every other basketball, lacrosse, softball, field hockey, tennis, girls volleyball and bowling team in N.J. to win a T of C title.
The NJSIAA introduced and passed through a first reading a proposal to end the Tournament of Champions in the above sports, which is part of an overall movement by the NJSIAA to shorten seasons, particularly the winter season.
The stated reasons for axing the T of C are varied but NJSIAA executive director Colleen Maguire said its elimination has been discussed for several years now and has widespread support among athletic directors, with 14 of the 15 conferences in New Jersey supporting the proposal.
Among the stated points against continuing the T of C during the meeting, according to multiple media outlets reporting on the meeting, are:
- A preference for more teams (the six champions in Groups I, II, III and IV and Non-Public Groups A and B) to end their season with a win rather than some of those champions facing larger, "unlike" teams in a T of C.
- Freeing up the opportunity for teams to schedule more games over the course of the season instead of building in the extra two to three games that will only benefit the six teams that make it.
- A lack of diversity of champions. In 31 boys basketball Tournament of Champions over the years, only four ended with a public school team winning the overall crown and it has not happened since 2000. A wider array of teams have won in other sports, but teams like Vianney in girls basketball, Eastern in field hockey (eight titles) and Delbarton in boys lacrosse (seven) have still been dominant over the years.
- The NJSIAA has already approved a measure that would end the winter season in the first week of March, which, in the case of basketball, makes fielding a T of C next to impossible. The condensing of the winter season, according to earlier comments from Maguire, is a matter of equity, as the current calendar gives the winter sports a longer season.
- There has been an effort in recent years, at the suggestion of student liaisons to the NJSIAA, that athletes who play multiple sports would like more time between seasons.
To become official policy, the proposal must pass one more reading and once that happens, it is expected the measure will take effect beginning in the 2022-23 school year, which would make the upcoming Tournament of Champions in the applicable sports the last of their kind, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Shore Conference has had varying degrees of success in the different iterations of the T of C and girls basketball has been the sport in which the Shore has thrived. In addition to St. John Vianney's seven championships, Manasquan has won three times, Red Bank Catholic twice and Neptune once, with St. Rose, Colts Neck, Marlboro and Toms River North all making it to a Tournament of Champions final as well.
To further emphasize the Shore's success in the girls basketball Tournament of Champions, of those four programs that reached the final but did not win, three of them (St. Rose, Colts Neck and Toms River North) lost to another Shore Conference team in the championship game.
If anything, the elimination of the T of C will add to the importance of the Shore Conference Tournament. The Shore has send multiple teams to the T of C every year since 2009, highlighted by the 2015 Tournament of Champions that saw four Shore Conference teams (Manasquan, St. Rose, St. John Vianney and Middletown South) win group championships to qualify for the Tournament of Champions. Beginning with Red Bank Catholic defeating Toms River North in the 2000 title game, there have been five seasons in which two Shore teams have met in the T of C final.
No longer will teams that lose in the Shore Conference Tournament have a chance to fully atone in the NJSIAA Tournament, unless said team share a group with the team that won the Shore Conference Tournament. The elimination of the T of C will also encourage highly-ranked teams from different groups to schedule one another during the regular season, which most programs are already doing. Now, those regular-season showdowns will carry far more weight in the rankings.
The softball tournament of champions only began in 2017 and the Shore has two of the four ever T of C champions crowned in the sport. Donovan Catholic made the most of two trips to the Tournament of Champions by winning in both 2019 and 2021, with the 2020 tournament cancelled due to COVID-19. During those four years, St. John Vianney, Middletown North and also earned softball Tournament of Champions appearances.
For Shore teams in other sports, making it to and winning the Tournament of Champions has been far less common. In 2019, Ranney became the first Shore Conference boys basketball program to win the Tournament of Champions, just the second to make it to the final and the first since 2013 just to get to the T of C.
Not only has a boys lacrosse team never won a T of C but Rumson-Fair Haven is the only program to ever make it, reaching the T of C in 2015 as the only ever Shore boys lacrosse team to do so.
Rumson and Shore Regional are the only girls lacrosse programs to make it to the Tournament of Champions and neither has been to the championship game. No Shore Conference team has won a field hockey T of C either, although both Shore and Wall have made it to the championship game since the first year of the tournament in 2006.
Red Bank Catholic and Marlboro have each won three Tournament of Champions titles in girls tennis, with Holmdel also winning one as well.