The NJSIAA will hold postseason football games this fall.
It just won’t crown champions.
The organization that oversees high school sports in New Jersey announced Wednesday its plan for postseason football, with two weeks of “playoff games” to be staged in the middle of November.
The format will be known as the “Football Post-Season Groupings” and will feature four-team pools. Each team will participate in a two-game series after the regular season.
What won’t be at stake are championships, as the competition will not follow the traditional postseason path of elimination rounds culminating in a title game.
The new format was created to account for the complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to NJSIAA officials.
Shawnee football coach Tim Gushue, whose team has won three straight sectional championships, was supportive of the format.
“The important thing is that we’re getting to play at all,” Gushue said. “Just thinking back to the spring, when those baseball, softball, track and field, and lacrosse teams couldn’t even play, we know we’re fortunate just to be able to take the field.”
During an NJSIAA executive committee meeting Wednesday, the organization clarified that competition for sectional championships would be held in other fall sports such as soccer, field hockey, and cross-country.
Lenape coach Joe Wojceichowski and Camden coach Dwayne Savage noted that the decision was disappointing to their players.
“My kids are very disappointed,” said Savage, whose team reached the South Jersey Group 2 final last season and loomed as a strong contender this season. “I’m happy that we’re out there, doing something. But my kids really wanted the chance to compete for one.”
With several starters back, Lenape projected as a team to beat in Group 5 tournament competition.
“I totally understand their rationale for not having championships,” Wojceichowski said. “I just don’t completely agree with it. Yes, this season is about just having a season, but athletes are competitors by nature and they want a chance to compete for championships.”
The NJSIAA previously announced that the football season would begin the weekend of Oct. 2, with most teams playing a six-game regular season. There will be no divisions in the West Jersey Football League, which includes all the schools in South Jersey.
The football postseason, which will be designated as Week 7 and Week 8 on the schedule, will be staged on the weekends of Nov. 13 and 20. Teams also will be eligible to participate in Thanksgiving games.
Since 1974, the NJSIAA has sponsored postseason championships in football. The format has expanded over the years, with the first regional championship games, which matched the South and Central sectional champions in each group as well as the North 1 and North 2 sectional champions in each group, held last season.
Here are the key details of the NJSIAA’s postseason football plan:
— Participation will be open to every school that opts into the postseason format.
— The state’s football leagues and conferences will take the lead in grouping member schools into four-team pools that will participate in a two-game series. The two winning teams from each pool in Week 7 and the two losing teams from each pool in Week 7 will play in Week 8.
— These groupings will be based on enrollment and geography, while striving for competitive balance. So a Group 1 team could be in a pool with a Group 3 team, based on proximity and relative strength of the program. Public and non-public teams also could be in the same pool.
— The NJSIAA will host a seeding committee meeting of representatives from all five leagues and conferences during the weekend of Nov. 7. All postseason groupings will be announced by NJSIAA on Nov. 8.
— The NJSIAA will schedule all games for Weeks 7 and 8.
— The NJSIAA will not provide awards or trophies during the postseason.
“I think we’re sending a good message,” said Gushue, a member of the Executive Committee of the New Jersey Football Coaches Association, which worked with the NJSIAA to design the new postseason format. “I know what sports can be like, ‘What did you win?’ This is showing it’s all about the competition.”