By Phil Anastasia

Inquirer Staff Writer

ROBBINSVILLE, N.J. -- South Jersey championship games in non-public football took a significant step closer to reality on Wednesday.

The NJSIAA's executive committee overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal by the West Jersey Football League to change the playoff structure for non-public football, creating sectional championship games and eliminating state championship games.

The committee went a step further during its monthly meeting, accelerating the start date of the change to September, pending approval of a second reading of the proposal in June.

If approved again by a two-thirds majority at the final executive committee meeting of the school year, the change will take effect for the next football season and South Jersey championship games in non-public football will be played in December, likely at Rowan University.

"I could see at Rowan, St. Augustine playing Camden Catholic (for the South A title)," said Paul VI athletic director Tony Mitchell, a member of the NJSIAA's executive committee as well as a WJFL officer who was instrumental in the creation of the proposal.

The change would align the non-public playoffs with the public-school playoffs, with tournament competition ending at the sectional level. Since 1993, non-public schools have competed for state championships in the sport, in apparent violation of the NJSIAA's constitution.

"The constitution says there shouldn't be state championships in football," Ewing athletic director Bud Kowal, the WJFL's president, said in addressing the executive committe before the vote.

The change would create four sections for the non-public playoffs -- South A and B and North A and B.

Under the proposal, the tentative alignment for Non-Public South A would be Camden Catholic, Paul VI, St. Augustine, Bishop Ahr, St. Joseph of Metuchen, St. John Vianney, Red Bank Catholic, Notre Dame and Donovan Catholic.

The tentative alignment for South B would be St. Joseph of Hammonton, Bishop Eustace, Holy Spirit, Holy Cross, Gloucester Catholic, Hudson Catholic, Marist, Immaculata and Mater Dei.

The change would prevent South Jersey's larger non-public programs such as St. Augustine, Paul VI and Camden Catholic from playing against North Jersey powerhouse teams such as Don Bosco Prep, Paramus Catholic, St. Joseph of Montvale and DePaul Catholic, among others.

St. Augustine coach Mark Reardon said he was against the change because it would prevent his team from competing against some of the best programs in the country.

"We're very happy and excited to be members of the WJFL," Reardon said via text. "We are also extremely proud of our South Jersey affiliation.
"Right now we have the best of both worlds -- we compete against teams in communities where our players are from and also play against the best teams in the state to try to win a state championship."

Bishop Eustace coach Rob Cormier, who has been highly critical of the competitive disadvantage his team has sometimes faced against North Jersey programs, said he would welcome the change.

"It is a needed change," Cormier said. "My team could compete a little this season."

The NJSIAA's executive committee endorsed the proposal by a 32-2 vote. A separate proposal to have the change take effect this upcoming season passed by a 26-8 vote.

If the proposal does not receive a two-thirds majority at second reading in June, it would move to the ballot for the general membership meeting in December.

A majority of votes in favor by the general membership in December would result in the proposal taking effect for the 2017 football season.

Mitchell said he believed the proposal is strongly supported by most schools in South Jersey and Central Jersey as well as some of the small non-public schools in North Jersey.

"I think it's a plus," Mitchell said. "It's going to bring back some rivalries in this sport that we've had in other sports."

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com

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