COLUMN: What you need to know about the NJSIAA football playoffs

By TOM WILLIAMS

There is a lot of conversation these days about the NJSIAA football playoffs – who will qualify, will they be in the South or Central bracket and will they get a home game.

Next weekend we will find out. The deadline to qualify is a week from tomorrow.

The NJSIAA made some significant changes this year, most supposedly in an effort to give athletes more rest. Yet, the basketball season, in particular, will find most teams jamming more games into less days. And, in football – a season that started the second or third weekend in September and ended on Thanksgiving week not too long ago – now starts the last weekend in August and, for some, will end in early December.

But, for other schools, football season could be over before November 1st.

After next weekend’s games the top 16 teams in each enrollment group, based on the power rating system, will be formed into two brackets. Using the foolish “snaking” system, eight teams will compete in the South bracket and the other eight in the Central bracket. The same will happen in North 1 and North 2.

Suggestion: Why not do away with Central and make it South 1 and South 2? That would eliminate the bizarre circumstance where Paulsboro or Ocean City could be playing for the Central Jersey title and North Brunswick and Raritan might play for South Jersey titles.

Anyway, entering tonight’s action, there are 12 Cape-Atlantic League schools whose football teams are in the playoff picture. There is Atlantic City in Group 5; Hammonton, Mainland, Millville and Ocean City in Group 4; Cedar Creek in Group 3; Oakcrest, Pleasantville and Middle Township in Group 2; St. Augustine in Non-Public A; and St. Joseph and Holy Spirit in Non-Public B.

Some of this could change by the end of next weekend.

The playoffs begin the weekend of October 28th. Teams with the highest power ratings in each game will be the home team. The sectional semi-finals will be the first weekend in November and sectional championship games November 11-12.

If a team loses its first playoff game it may schedule a consolation game in November. Teams with Thanksgiving games (Millville-Vineland, Atlantic City-Holy Spirit and Ocean City-Pleasantville) will undoubtedly use that option, rather than sit out nearly a month between games.

But there is something new for teams that do not qualify for the playoffs – at least for the top eight non-qualifiers in each group.

The NJSIAA has created “Regional Invitational Tournaments” for those who finish at No. 17 through No. 24 in each group. These are basically consolation tournaments, kind of like the NIT in college basketball. No. 17 will host No. 20 and No. 18 will host No. 19 in the first round of one bracket with the winners playing the following week. And No. 21 will host No. 24 and No. 22 will host No. 23 in the other bracket with the winners playing.

Teams that do not qualify for either the playoffs or the invitationals can schedule their own consolation games. And teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs or the invitationals will not get a consolation game assigned but may schedule one themselves.

For CAL area schools, if the playoffs were this weekend, in Group 5 Atlantic City would host Edison in the playoffs, Vineland would host Monroe in one invitational and Egg Harbor Township would host Perth Amboy in the other. Bridgeton would have to schedule its own consolation games.

In Group 4, Hammonton would host Brick Memorial, Long Branch will be at Millville, Northern Burlington would play at Mainland and Ocean City would host Jackson. No teams would qualify for the invitational brackets and Absegami would have to schedule extra games on its own.

In Group 3, Cedar Creek would be at Ocean Township in the playoffs. And Cumberland would be on its own.

In Group 2, Middle Township would be at Oakcrest and Monmouth at Pleasantville in the playoffs. Lower Cape May would host Haddon Heights in an invitational bracket.

And in Group 1, Buena would be at Middlesex in an invitational bracket and Wildwood would have to schedule its own games.

Non-Public brackets will not be seeded by power points but by a seeding committee. But it is pretty clear that St. Augustine will travel to face one of the North Jersey Non-Public A powers and both St. Joseph and Holy Spirit will open with home games in Non-Public B.

These are just for demonstration purposes and a lot of this can change based on the results of the next two weekends. Plus, some teams might decline to participate in the invitational games, changing the matchups. By the way, the games in the invitational brackets will be played on Thursday night or Saturday to allow the NJSIAA to make use of the limited numbers of working officials. Playoff games will be on Friday or Saturday.

The other big change, of course, is that public school state champions will be determined by five new championship games for the first time in NJSIAA history.

Things are quite different this year in New Jersey high school football but one thing stays the same – games played on these final two weekends before the October 22 qualification deadline are still very important.

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