By Andy Loigu
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) is making plans for the high school football playoffs to start a week earlier this year, in week nine, to allow for an extra round of playoffs.
Locally, for example, that means the Hackettstown Tigers and Warren Hills Blue Streaks have a chance to play for an overall North Jersey championship. For instance, if the Tigers win the title in North Section 2 Group 2, as they almost did this year, they would play the North Section 1 champion for the overall North Jersey Group 2 crown. Warren Hills could have a similar opportunity in Group 3, where the Blue Streaks usually live, based on enrollment numbers.
The NJSIAA membership voted in December to implement this plan and the new scheduling structure is still in the works. The date and time for this new playoff round, which the members hesitate to call a “bowl game,” has not been decided, but schools will still have the opportunity to schedule a Thanksgiving Day game to maintain a traditional rivalry.
Each team will play an eight-game schedule and if said team does not make the playoffs, it can add two contingency games. For the past decade, non-playoff teams have been playing a single contingency game. Also, under the new plan, if a team loses its first round playoff game, it may schedule a contingency (consolation) game. It’s not likely that many teams will choose to play such an anticlimactic game, unless there is an opportunity to maintain a high ranking and/or to play for pride against a nearby school in a game that would be competitive. A league champion may wish to play another league champion.
“I doubt we’d ever play a contingency game after losing a playoff game. We lost a good wrestler for the winter season the last time we played a contingency game, on a muddy field at Cliffside Park,” Grauso said. “For what? But I do want the football season to be at least nine games, for the work and preparation the players and coaches put in, eight games does not seem to be a complete season. We will finish the regular season with our traditional Warren Hills game. We’ve chosen to play them in the week nine option, following a playoff game.”
The 2018 high school football season will start a week earlier this year, on Labor Day weekend, with Thursday, Aug. 30, being the earliest date teams may schedule. Hackettstown will be at Jefferson that night. “We chose to play on Thursday because it is tough to get people to work the game on Friday or Saturday of Labor Day weekend,” said the Tigers’ athletic director Bobby Grauso. “It will feel weird to play before school starts, but they’ve been doing it in Pennsylvania and they get good crowds.”
Tentatively, the first day for practice would be Aug. 8 and the first day for scrimmages against other schools would be Aug. 15.
Discussions for a way to schedule true state championship games, in which the North Jersey champion plays the winner of a Central vs. South Jersey playoff game, are ongoing. I’ve been advised this would happen in 2020 at the earliest. “We’re moving in that direction,” Grauso said. “Everybody wants true state championships, the way we have in the other sports. It really sets a goal for the players, a motivation to work hard and make the season something special.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.