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NJSIAA committee rejects football realignment

The proposal could still find its way onto the organization's general ballot for a Dec. 3 vote.

ROBBINSVILLE, N.J. - The NJSIAA Executive Committee yesterday overwhelmingly turned down a proposal to place football teams in leagues based on their size - and to align public and non-public teams in separate leagues.

But the proposal is far from dead.

Kittatinny athletic director Chris Carroll, one of the men behind the plan, said the proposal has enough support from principals to be placed on the ballot for the general membership on Dec. 3.

Signatures from at least 20 principals are needed, and Carroll said he has more than enough support.

The executive committee voted, 21-6, with three abstentions, against the plan.

Based on Carroll's assessment, the plan still will make its way to the general membership for the December vote.

"If that's the case, it should go forward without the endorsement of the NJSIAA," said Salem athletic director Dave Suiter, who is a member of the NJSIAA's Executive Committee.

Proponents said that the proposal, which would eliminate the controversial power-points system, would be more equitable because teams would face league opponents of equal size (Group 1 vs. Group 1, Group 2 vs. Group 2, etc.).

Opponents said that the plan would end some neighborhood rivalries and that it was unfair to non-public schools, which, in many cases, would have to travel across the state for regular-season games. Only 38 non-public schools play football (compared with about 300 in the public sections), making it more difficult to schedule games against like-size opponents in the same geographic area.

History also worked against supporters of the proposal. Mike Herbert, a lawyer who represents the NJSIAA, pointed out that New Jersey's commissioner of education decided in 1983 that city and non-public schools should be included in the same conferences.

This plan would separate the public and non-public schools and would "appear to be a violation" of the commissioner's 1983 decision, Herbert said.

Carroll claimed that non-public schools are dominating in football and that the 1983 decision was outdated.

"Maybe back then, the playing field was somewhat level," he said, "but I think if the commissioner of education looked at the scores today, [she] would say there's a discrepancy here."

According to Carroll, non-public Bergen County-area teams had a 138-28 record against public-school teams from 2003 to 2006.

The Rev. Michael Kelly, headmaster at Seton Hall Prep, cited different statistics. He said non-public teams won or shared a conference title only eight of a possible 21 times last year in which they competed against public schools.

Kelly, saying he was representing the state's 79 non-public schools, strongly criticized the proposal. He said the increased travel by freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams - he estimated that many of the trips would be 120 miles each way - would have a "negative impact on class schedules and budgets."

The Rev. Luke Travers, the principal at Delbarton and a member of the NJSIAA Executive Committee, said that the proposal was "well-intentioned" but that it would make non-public teams "second-class citizens."

"It would give us more traveling and more independent games and maybe force us to play games against teams from New York," he said.

After the meeting, Carroll said "it's unfortunate that this body didn't look at the imbalance of football."

Added Wallkill Valley athletic director Mike VanZile, who also helped author the plan: "This isn't just the public vs. non-public, as they want you to think; it's as much about a Group 2 playing a Group 4, and a Group 1 playing a Group 3. That's a real safety issue" when a small school faces a large school that has lots of depth. "This was about group size and making the games more competitive."

Should the general membership vote in favor of the proposal, the commissioner of education, Lucille Davy, would have 20 days to review the matter and could overturn the decision, Herbert said.

"If it passes, it's going to invite litigation," he said. "Some parochial schools have said they'd consider dropping out of the NJSIAA if this passes."