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Vote falls short on state football titles

EDISON, N.J. - A majority of New Jersey high school officials voted for a proposal to allow the playoffs for public-school teams to extend to the state championship round.

EDISON, N.J. - A majority of New Jersey high school officials voted for a proposal to allow the playoffs for public-school teams to extend to the state championship round.

But 58 percent wasn't enough.

Because a two-thirds majority was needed to change the NJSIAA's constitution, the proposal was defeated Monday during the organization's annual business meeting at the Pines Manor.

"We're shortchanging our kids in football," said Washington Township athletic director Kevin Murphy, who voted for the proposal. "We have state championships in every other sport. We need to have them in football."

The proposal would have changed the wording of the organization's constitution to eliminate the last sentence of Article IX: "No state championship, however, shall be declared in football."

The vote was 167-102 in favor, with three abstentions. Because 285 schools were registered at the meeting, 190 votes were needed to form a two-thirds majority.

"It's very disappointing," said Brick Township athletic director Bill Bruno, who was an author of the proposal. "Now we're back in limbo."

Under NJSIAA rules, another proposal on this issue cannot be submitted to the organization's advisory committee until April 2014. If it passes through the advisory committee as well as the executive committee, the proposal could be voted on by the general membership again in December 2014.

That means there won't be state-championship football for public schools until the 2015 season, at the earliest.

"I think we're moving forward," Bruno said of sentiment for state-championship play.

Haddon Heights athletic director Joe Cramp said he voted against the proposal because of "uncertainty" about the format of the expanded playoffs, including start and finish dates as well as its impact on Thanksgiving football.

NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko said he believed that the lack of a concrete proposal for expanded state championships might have moved some skeptical officials to vote against the change.

"It's the unknown," Timko said.

Bruno said he has "six proposals on my desk" for various formats for an expanded state tournament. He said he wanted to wait until the general membership approved the constitutional change before bouncing those proposals off officials around the state, with an eye toward formulating a popular plan that would have been presented to the general membership in December 2012.

Bruno said he had hoped to come up with a plan that would have preserved Thanksgiving football, or at least leave the fate of those games as an "individual school choice."

The most likely proposal was expected to feature a start date of the Friday before Labor Day instead of the Friday after Labor Day, eliminate the bye week, and create a three-games-in-10-days scenario for successful playoff teams that wanted to preserve Thanksgiving rivalries - a tournament game on the Friday before the holiday, the annual game on Thanksgiving eve, and another tournament game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Public-school football is the only NJSIAA-sanctioned sport that does not compete for state championships. Non-public football teams have been competing for state championships since 1993.

Among other proposals, the membership approved a plan to allow transfer students to practice and scrimmage with their teams while sitting out 30 days of ineligibility, effective September 2011.

A proposal that would have moved the start of spring sports from April 1 to March 26 was defeated even though a majority of officials who voted were in favor. The vote was 136-132 in favor, but since 285 schools had registered at the start of the meeting, a total of 143 votes were needed for a majority.