Coaches come up with new plan for football

By lindsey siegle


owell vs. Jackson. Middletown North not meeting Middletown South on Thanksgiving Day. East Brunswick riding the bus to Hunterdon Central every year.

Under a new plan by the New Jersey Football Coaches Association that could all be a reality as soon as the fall of 2001.

The NJFCA was rebuffed in its last plan to radically alter the state’s high school football season and playoffs, but the organization is back with a new plan.

This time around the NJFCA attempts to address not only the problems of the current system, (basic fairness, scheduling problems, no true state champions) but many of those that were raised about its previous plan (unreasonable travel distances, the end of Thanksgiving Day rivalries).

"We started this process just about two years ago," said Mark Van Zile, co-athletic director at Wallkill Valley Regional High School and one of the prime architects of the plan. "I’ve been in education for 27 years and was a head football coach for 18. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for many years. I’ve been at three schools and often league schedules had a quirk in them that I always questioned."

Van Zile specifically noted instances where some teams have a hard time getting a full schedule of opponents, or where they currently play in a conference that makes it extremely difficult to qualify for the state playoff under the current system of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

As it now stands, the NJSIAA uses a system of points (known as power points), to determine playoff participants. The points are awarded on a sliding scale based on an opponent’s size and the number of wins they have.

Van Zile noted that "if you’re a big school that plays a lot of little schools, it is difficult to get enough power points to qualify for the playoffs, and if you’re a little school playing big schools, you may not have a chance to win."

The new proposal calls for the state’s 340 high schools with football teams to be divided into four groups, two with 86 teams each and two with 84 teams each, by enrollment.

"What we did was simply list all the school’s by enrollment and put a line after the first 86," Van Zile said. "That’s Group 4. After the next 86 we put a line and that’s Group 3. We did the same thing with 84 teams for Group 2 and Group 1."

In groups 2 and 3, which would not have any single school skewing the number, the enrollment difference of any two schools is roughly 200 students.

Van Zile noted that every two years enrollments would be recalculated and any necessary adjustments would be made.

In each of the groups, teams would be placed in one of eight divisions based on geography and, where possible, traditional rivalries.

There would not be separate divisions for public and parochial schools; however, to compensate for parochial schools’ ability to draw from larger populations their enrollment figures would be boosted by 25 percent.

Each of the divisions would send four teams to a group playoff after a nine-game season. All four divisions would play down to a single champion, a structure that would require eight teams to play a total of 14 games.

In addition to the realignment, the plan would set a single day for the start of practice — the third Friday in August — and the start of the regular season — the first weekend after Labor Day.

Teams would play their nine games only in their division, and those not making the playoffs would be able to pick up a 10th game.

Teams would be free to choose their Thanksgiving Day opponent; however, if a team is one of the 16 left in the playoffs, it (and therefore its traditional opponent) would not play a Thanksgiving Day game.

The new plan was met with enthusiasm by East Brunswick football coach Marcus Borden.

"The thing about the plan is that it’s not a playoff plan," Borden said. "The result is that it gives everyone a structure, but as its first priority it solves teams’ scheduling problems and it creates uniformity. Because there are no bye-weeks, everybody starts at the same time and finishes at the same time."

Borden also noted that under the new plan more teams will finish their season before the winter sports teams are beginning practice.

Under the current system that crowns 20 champions there are 40 teams playing into December. The new system would have only eight teams playing in December.

"The basketball and wrestling people have to be happy," Borden noted. "For most teams the season ends in the second week of November. That has to be a positive."

The NJFCA has sent the plan to the NJSIAA which will ultimately decide whether to adopt the proposal.

Boyd Sands, executive director of the NJSIAA, said that his organization has received the proposal but has not had time to thoroughly review it.