South Jersey-championship football games for public schools will be played at the site of the higher seeds instead of Rowan University under a playoff proposal that moved closer to implementation at the NJSIAA meeting Wednesday.
In addition, non-public state-championship games plus 10 new "Bowl Games" between public sectional champions will be played this season at MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL's Giants and Jets, on the weekends of Nov. 23-24 and Nov. 30-Dec. 1, under the terms of the proposal that was overwhelmingly approved by the NJSIAA's executive committee.
"It's uncharted territory," NJSIAA assistant director Jack DuBois, who oversees football, said of the massive changes to the sport's playoff format.
The executive committee will vote again on the proposal at its next meeting May 9. If approved again — which seems inevitable, since the vote Wednesday was 23-3 in favor with five abstentions — the changes will take effect for the 2018 football season.
Among other key changes:
NJSIAA counsel Steve Goodell said the proposal presented to the executive committee Wednesday was the result of a "remarkable compromise" between backers of two new plans for playoff football.
Those plans, both of which were created in the spring of 2017, included the Coalition Plan that was proposed by officials from the West Jersey Football League and the Shore Conference, and the New Jersey Super Football Conference Plan.
"They reached an agreement I never thought was possible," Goodell said of the deal between officials from the southern and northern parts of the state.
The NJSIAA's executive committee votes Wednesday moved the state closer to the implementation of a new football format that was approved by the organization's general membership in December. In that meeting, the general membership approved changes that will include an eight-game regular season, with the playoffs starting in Week 9 (this year, that's Nov. 2-3).
Because of the earlier start of the opening round of the playoffs, the sectional finals for public schools will be held this year on the weekend of Nov. 16-17.
Those games have been held at neutral sites for several years, with most South Jersey finals being held at Rowan University since 2011. That championship weekend at Richard Wackar Stadium in Glassboro in early December, which often has featured three games on Saturday and three on Sunday, has drawn large crowds of both supporters of the participating teams and fans who were able to watch multiple games at one site.
Another new aspect of the playoff format will be the splitting of the state into Northern and Southern pools, with the top 16 teams in power ranking in each of the four public school groups in each section qualifying for the playoffs. Once those 16 teams are determined, northing numbers will be used to create the four sectionals, with the eight southern-most schools in the South section, the next eight southern-most schools in the Central section, and so on.
Other changes approved in December included an optional 10th game for teams that did not make the playoffs or are eliminated in the first round as well as the creation of the so-called "Bowl Games" that will match sectional champions in each of the four public groups.
Marlboro athletic director Dave Ryden, one of the creators of the Coalition Plan along with WJFL commissioner Bud Kowal, the athletic director at Ewing, said the Bowl Games would feature these matchups in the first two years of the new format: South champion vs. Central champion, and North 1 champion vs. North 2 champion.
If the format had been in place in 2017, the Bowl Game matchups involving South Jersey teams would have been Lenape vs. South Brunswick in Group 5, Shawnee vs. Long Branch in Group 4, Delsea vs. Somerville in Group 3, Haddonfield vs. Hillside in Group 2, and Paulsboro vs. Middlesex in Group 1.
Teams that participate in Bowl Games, or super-sectionals, likely will be playing their 13th game of the season.
Many observers believe the creation of the Bowl Games will lead to the creation of state-championship games for public schools by the 2020 season. Currently, the NJSIAA constitution prohibits state championships in football, although Goodell admits the organization bends its rules for non-public teams, which compete in state finals in three groups.
"We don't stand on ceremony," Goodell said, adding that the non-public state finals are a "function of the number of schools in non-public play."
Ryden said the new format was not created specifically with an eye toward leading to state-championship games for public schools.