Back in the old days -- say, 2015 -- the West Jersey Football League had 66 schools.

Today it has 95.

Tomorrow it could be 138.

OK, not tomorrow. The WJFL will have 95 schools again in 2017 as the league completes the second season of a two-year scheduling cycle.

But the 43-team Shore Conference -- which shares some geographic ties with some teams in the WJFL, labors at times with public/non-public scheduling and is losing a crossover-game partner -- could be interested in a merger or affiliation of some sort with the WJFL starting in 2018.

Shore Conference president Joe Armino, the athletic director of the Toms River school district, confirmed last week that league officials hope to meet with WJFL officials in the near future to discuss a possible cooperative agreement between the leagues.

"We have to look at all our options," Armino said. "We have to look at what's the best situation for the Shore Conference.

"We hope to get together with those guys (from the WJFL), sit down, discuss what might be in everybody's best interest."

The WJFL has undergone such rapid expansion in the last year that league president Bud Kowal, the athletic director at Ewing, is reluctant to discuss another merger.

The WJFL added the Cape-Atlantic League and the Colonial Conference this year, growing from 66 to 95 schools.

Kowal said WJFL officials "will always keep an open mind" about possible developments that would improve the league.

The Shore Conference might be looking for scheduling help starting in 2018 because the league's crossover agreement Greater Middlesex Conference is expected to end after the 2017 season.

The GMC is believed to be pursuing a merger with the Mid-State 38 conference.

A GMC/Mid-State 38 merger would mean that New Jersey high school football would be comprised of just five conferences, a consolidation that's similar to changes in college sports in recent years.

A WJFL/Shore Conference merger would shrink that number to four.

The Shore Conference's affiliation with the GMC, which began in 2009, helped officials from both leagues schedule competive games for many of its teams, especially smaller-school programs.

With the rise of small-school, non-public power such as Mater Dei Prep -- a situation that is beginning to mirror the Cape Atlantic League's scheduling troubles with regard to St. Joseph of Hammonton -- the Shore Conference is facing challenges that affiliation with a large, diversified conference such as the WJFL could help alleviate.

Armino stressed that the Shore Conference could return to scheduling all its games within its own conference, which the league did before the agreement with the GMC.

With 43 schools, the Shore Conference has a lot more flexibility than the Cape-Atlantic League did with 17 football-playing schools.

A merger or even a loose affiliation involving a limited amount of crossover games between the WJFL and the Shore Conference could create some new and interesting games.

Non-Public schools such as Mater Dei, St, John Vianney, Red Bank Catholic and Donovan Catholic would make for natural crossover rivals with WJFL non-public programs such as St. Joseph, Camden Catholic, Holy Spirit, Paul VI, Notre Dame and others.

Geographically, WJFL schools in Atlantic and Cape May counties as well as the eastern side of Burlington County -- such as Rancocas Valley and those in the Lenape school district -- could match up with Shore Conference teams such as Jackson, Brick, Southern, Barnegat and the Toms River schools, among others, without prohibitive travels issues.

Another possible advantage would be the "strength-in-numbers" factor in a state that sometimes seems driven in policy, regulations and rules by the preferences of North Jersey schools.

Kowal and other WJFL officials want to give the league time to grow, especially since the addition of the Cape-Atlantic League and Colonial Conference -- while generally seen by most schools as a positive development -- represents a tumultous change to which all parties are still adjusting.

And it's only been one regular season.

But in a rapidly changing environment for high school football in New Jersey, it makes sense that officials from the WJFL and Shore Conference would consider the pros and cons of a partnership.

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com

-- Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter

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