Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

H.S. Football's Fate Now in Voters' Hands

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

H.S. Football's Fate Now in Voters' Hands

Article excerpt

ATLANTIC CITY - New Jersey high school football could be split between public and non-public schools beginning in 2016. Or it could remain in the same quagmire it's currently in because no one seems to know what else to do.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's public/non-public committee revealed its recommendations Tuesday on two major issues: handling the rise of transfers for athletic advantage, and balancing the football playing field between public and non-public schools.

Regarding football, the proposal will allow the entire 431- school membership to vote in December on splitting teams into public and non-public bodies.

If approved, the separation would revolutionize the state's football landscape. It also would solve - at least in theory - the most pressing and controversial issue in New Jersey high school athletics. That issue burns especially hot in North Jersey, where the football dominance of the Big Five non-public schools (Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco, DePaul, Paramus Catholic and St. Joseph) has left some public schools threatening to forfeit games.

But, of course, this complicated issue, decades in the making, may not be solved so simply by a vote.

The committee is taking a gamble. The New Jersey high school voting electorate is fickle and suspicious by its very nature. Twice in the past four years, proposals to play down public school football to single group state champions have been voted down by the general membership. New Jersey remains the only state that doesn't do that.

Another vote to separate public and non-public schools for all sports failed by eight votes in 2007.

Support for the football idea varies widely, depending on which part of the state you reside. North Jersey, with its Big Five, has been at the epicenter of turmoil. In order to comply with orders from the New Jersey Department of Education, those schools have to be given a fair and balanced schedule of games to play.

Those schedules are in flux right now. The Big North Conference recently told three of the Big Five schools (Don Bosco, DePaul and St. Joseph) that they would have to play one another twice because previously scheduled matchups against public schools would not be permitted.

All this places an incredible amount of importance on the vote in December. Will it pass? Committee co-chairman Mike Zapicchi just smiled when asked.

It should pass, but if it doesn't, no one knows how the Big Five could come up with full schedules in 2016.

"We would have to work with the Big North athletic directors to try to figure out a solution," Zapicchi said.

There was no framework for a 37-team, non-public-only football league suggested at the meeting, but Zapicchi said that there are three ideas under consideration. He was not sure if the committee would reveal a possible league structure before the December vote. …

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