By Phil Anastasia
Inquirer Staff Writer
A committee formed to seek solutions to the growing rift between public and non-public schools in New Jersey high school sports is recommending the creation of a non-public football conference.
The committee is recommending that "a split of the public and non-public schools -- for football only -- be presented to the general membership for a vote" in December.
The change, if implemented, would dramatically change the landscape of high school football in the state.
Public-school teams still would be allowed to play non-public teams in "cross-over" games but the non-publics would be joined together in a conference featuring only non-public schools.
The conference likely would include multiple divisions arranged by enrollment and geography and strength of program. There are around 37 non-public schools in the state that offer football.
In the traditional South Jersey area, there are eight non-public schools that field football teams: Bishop Eustace Prep, Camden Catholic, Gloucester Catholic, Holy Cross, Holy Spirit, Paul VI, St. Augustine Prep and St. Joseph.
The NJSIAA's public/non-public committee presented the recommendations to the state's athletic directors at a session at their annual convention Tuesday at the Golden Nugget casino and hotel in Atlantic City.
The committee was formed in October. It is chaired by Michael Zapicchi, principal of West Windsor-Plainsboro North High School in Mercer County.
The committee also is recommending a significant change to the transfer rules, splitting schools into those with "open enrollment" -- non-publics and choice schools -- and those with closed enrollment based strictly on geography.
Both proposals will be presented to the NJSIAA's executive and advistory committees on April 1.
The NJSIAA's executive committee could move ahead with implementing the changes or could recommend that the proposals be placed on a ballot for vote by the general membership in December.
The public/non-public committee has indicated that the football recommendation should be presented to the general membership in December, probably becasue it represents such a dramatic change in the system.
Here's a closer look at the recommendations, as described by the NJSIAA:
NON-PUBLIC FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
To ensure greater competitive balance, the committee is recommending that a split of the public and non-public schools -- for football only -- be presented to the general membership for a vote during December's business meeting.
Cross-over games against public school and out-of-state games would be permissible.
"Given the unique nature of a contact sport in which size significantly impacts teams playing one weekly game, creating more balanced football conferences based on teams that share similar characteristics seems fair and would provide a safer environment for all competitors," said Elaine McGrath, committee co-chair and athletic director/supervisor of Physical Education and Health at South Brunswick High School. "Skill levels vary in all sports, but the committee believes football is unique and, as a result, requires different scheduling."
For the purpose of regulating transfers, the committee is considering reclassifying schools into two categories.
These would be "open enrollment" – including non-public and choice schools (select public schools permitted, via a state program, to enroll students from outside traditional boundaries) -- and "closed enrollment" or public schools, which admit students exclusively from a defined geography.
Under the proposal, students with a bona fide change of address who transfer from one closed enrollment school to another closed enrollment school wouldn't be subject to a waiting period.
Student-athletes who have previously participated in a varsity sport and who transfer to an open enrollment school would be subject to a 30-day waiting period and would be prohibited from participating in the NJSIAA state tournament.
There is no waiting period for participation in sub-varsity competition.
The committee may also recommend updates to various transfer-related forms that are required, including having parents and a school administrator provide official certifications.
"The rule revisions under consideration provide student athletes the opportunity to seek new educational opportunities, while bolstering the integrity of interscholastic sports, helping maintain competitive balance, and ensuring cooperation and fair play among schools," says Zapicchi. "Ultimately, we're trying to identify a means of being as fair as possible both to individual students and to teams that count on the proverbial level playing field."
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