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NJSIAA: Non-publics to set divisions, schedule in new conference

By Phil Anastasia

Inquirer Staff Writer

ROBBINSVILLE, N.J. -- The members of a proposed state-wide, non-public football conference would be responsible for the creation of division alignments and schedules, the chair of the NJSIAA committee that is recommending the controversial change said Wednesday.

Mike Zapicchi, the principal at West Windsor Plainsboro North High School and chair of the NJSIAA's public/non-public committee, said he has received "a lot of negative reaction" from officials from non-public schools in South and Central Jersey.

"They feel like they are lumped in with a problem that doesn't really apply to them," Zappichi said after presenting his committee's recommendations to the NJSIAA's executive committee.

The NJSIAA's advisory committee endorsed the proposal to create a non-public football conference on Wednesday.

The proposal now must be passed by the executive committee, which seems likely. The executive committee will vote on the proposal at its June meeting.

If it passes the executive committee, it will be presented to the member schools in sectional meetings around the state in the fall, then placed on the ballot for vote by the general membership in December.

If approved by majority of the member schools, the proposal would take effect for the 2016 football season.

Several coaches of South Jersey non-public football teams have expressed concern about the NJSIAA's proposal, which would remove those programs from existing conferences such as the West Jersey Football League and Cape-Atlantic League.

"It's definitely disappointing," Paul VI coach John Doherty said the proposal.

Said Bishop Eustace coach Rob Cormier: "This is driven by 4-5 non-public schools up North and really doesn't have anything to do with the South Jersey non-public schools."

Zapicchi told the NJSIAA's executive committee that the non-public schools would be responsible for creating the governance structure of the new conference, which would be overseen by the NJSIAA.

Zapicchi said his committee spent "two full meetings" trying to determine division alignments and generate schedules, without success.

"We want (the general membership) to vote on the concept, and then have the non-public schools themselves work out the details," Zapicchi said.

Under the terms of the proposal, non-public schools still would be allowed to play public schools in football, if both teams agreed.

St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said it was his understanding that the non-public conference's divisions would be aligned "geographically," which could create a South Jersey division with the area's eight football-playing schools: Bishop Eustace, Camden Catholic, Gloucester Catholic, Holy Cross, Holy Spirit, Paul VI, St. Joseph and St. Augustine.

Notre Dame, which is located in Lawrenceville in Mercer County and is a member of the West Jersey Football League, also could be grouped with the South Jersey non-public schools, as could some Shore Conference non-publics such as Red Bank Catholic, St. John Vianney and Donovan Catholic.

The division alignments also could take into account factors such as enrollment and strength of program.

Some South Jersey coaches are saying that "mock-ups" of potential division alignments and schedules includes cross-over games between South Jersey programs and some North Jersey powerhouses such as Don Bosco Prep, Paramus Catholic, St. Joseph of Montvale and Bergen Catholic.

"In a few years,  we could have a hard time fielding a football program if we have to travel North to play those schools in the regular season," Cormier said of Bishop Eustace.

Zapicchi stressed to the executive committee and again in interviews after the meeting that the members of the proposed non-public conference would be responsible for the creation of the divisions and the schedule.

"We really want them to do it," Zapicchi said.

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