State football finals: No sure thing
State-championship football is on the 1-yard line. But the dream team backed by NJSIAA director Jack DuBois, who oversees the sport for the state organization, as well as dozens of highly successful and highly influential coaches in South Jersey and North Jersey, is no lock to score.
State-championship football is on the 1-yard line.
But the dream team backed by NJSIAA director Jack DuBois, who oversees the sport for the state organization, as well as dozens of highly successful and highly influential coaches in South Jersey and North Jersey, is no lock to score.
"Our time has come," DuBois said after the NJSIAA's monthly meeting Wednesday at its headquarters in Robbinsville.
DuBois and others who have been hankering for state-title games in public-school football sense that momentum, public sentiment, and the imperatives of fair play are on their side.
I mean, it has never made sense that the NJSIAA offers state-championship competition in every sport except perhaps its most popular, public-school football.
It has made even less sense that the organization with a constitutional prohibition on state-title games in the sport - it's right there in Article IX: "No state championship, however, shall be declared in football" - has been staging those very games in non-public football for 20 years.
DuBois and the coaches who have been carrying a candle for state finals believe things are about to change.
The NJSIAA's general membership will vote Dec. 2 on removing that controversial sentence from the constitution. If a two-thirds majority of votes cast support the change, New Jersey will have state championships in public-school football in the 2014 season.
But that last yard could be the longest yard.
The "blueprint" created by officials in the Big North Conference to allow for state-title games calls for the season to start in the so-called "Zero Week," which will be the weekend after Labor Day in most seasons but the weekend before Labor Day twice in a seven-year cycle.
Atlantic City coach Thomas Kelly speaks for a lot of people when he expresses this concern: "Soon, the season will have to start in July to get these games in."
Here's the thing: In their hearts of hearts, 70 percent of the coaches out there know their teams aren't going to a state final in the near future (Kelly actually is a 30 percenter.)
So while these coaches might support the idea of state finals, their reality is grounded in things other than dreams of a trip to face some team from another part of the state in some imaginary showdown.
The problem with the Big North's proposal is that it can be viewed as marginalizing the regular season. It calls for eight games in the first eight weeks, with a wrap-up by late October.
It can be perceived as regarding the regular season as a rush job, as if the most important thing is what happens after divisional and conference play: five weekends of the state tournament.
The proposal does preserve Thanksgiving rivalries, which long has been a sticking point for opponents of state-championship games.
But the early start and the compacted nature of the regular season could turn off a lot of voters. That 70 percent majority cares a lot more about what happens in Week 4 than Week 14.
Plus, coaches whose teams don't make the playoffs - and that's roughly half the state - will be looking at trying to keep their teams together through two consolation games bereft of meaning or rivalry. That could be a major issue.
Remember, too: The coaches aren't voting. Each school's administration will have the say.
Those principals and superintendents, especially in the Cape-Atlantic League as well as the Shore Conference - and let's face it, the whole state has people who savor summer at the Shore - might not be too enamored of the notion of football games starting before Labor Day and the start of practice creeping backward toward early August.
One solution would be to push the season deeper into December. The current proposal calls for the state finals to be the first weekend in December, same as they are now for sectional finals.
That's probably a nod to winter sports, especially since a lot of football players are key wrestlers and basketball players.
But if the season went longer, only those teams that advance that far in the playoffs - and we're talking 10 public schools in the state finals - would be impacted.
That's a lot fewer than the 100 percent that will be impacted by the earlier start.
"I think there's a real feeling that we should have state champions in football like we do in every other sport," DuBois said.
He's right. But this is no sure thing. It's dangerous to mess with summer in New Jersey, and that final yard is going to be tough for this dream team to cover.