Three South Jersey non-public football programs have decided not to participate in the state tournament this season.
Paul VI, Camden Catholic and Bishop Eustace – which are a combined 0-17 – have notified the NJSIAA of their intent to withdraw from their respective non-public state playoffs and participate instead in cross-over consolation games.
"It doesn't make sense," Paul VI athletic director Tony Mitchell said of participating in the Non-Public 4 state tournament, which includes some of the East Coast's most powerful programs such as St. Peter's Prep, St. Joseph of Montvale and Bergen Catholic, among others.
Paul VI is 0-6 and has been hampered by injuries, Mitchell said.
"We're down to 38 kids and 10 of them are hurt," Mitchell said. "Even if we were to win a first-round game, then we've have to go north (and play a powerhouse program). That wouldn't make sense for our program."
Bishop Eustace is 0-5. The Crusaders have decided not to participate in the Non-Public 3 tournament but hope to play two cross-cover consolation games the weekends of Nov. 1-2-3 and Nov. 8-9-10, according to athletic director Sam Tropiano.
"We had to look at what's best for our kids, our school, our program," Tropiano said. "We met as a school administration and we met with the coaches and we were all in agreement.
"It wouldn't make sense for us to travel to Passaic county or Monmouth county for a game. We can stay close-by and play an opponent that makes sense for us."
In the past two years, Paul VI and Bishop Eustace have played in a cross-over consolation game and the teams could meet again this season.
The NJSIAA arranges cross-over consolation games for non-playoff teams and tries to match teams in close geographic proximity as well as similar competitive strength.
This is the third consecutive year that Paul VI and Bishop Eustace have opted to withdraw their teams from the tournament.
This is the first year that Camden Catholic, which is classified in Non-Public 3, has chosen to play a cross-over consolation game rather than participate in the tournament.
"It's the best thing for our kids, with what we've been going through," Camden Catholic coach Cody Hall said.
Camden Catholic is 0-6. The Irish are attempting to rebuild the program after more than two dozen players elected to transfer or declined to come out for the team in the wake of the dismissal of former coach Nick Strom in May.
Because Camden Catholic was 34-6 in Strom's four seasons, the Irish were given a highly challenging schedule for this season and next by the West Jersey Football League. The schedule was created months before Strom's dismissal.
Five of Camden Catholic first six games have been against teams in the Inquirer Top 25 in Rancocas Valley, Woodrow Wilson, Holy Spirit, Delsea and Lenape.
In the summer, Camden Catholic had around 30 players in the program including around 17 freshmen. Hall said the numbers have increased during the season.
"We're up to close to 40 kids," Hall said. "We've added 10, 12. I'm really happy with the mental makeup of these kids. They've really showed what kind of kids we have here. They've pushed through. They've persevered."
Mitchell and some other South Jersey non-public football officials have tried to convince the NJSIAA to create sectional brackets for non-public teams in the sport, not unlike the public-school system.
Under some proposals, that would result in the creation of Non-Public A and B sectional tournaments as opposed to the current state-wide tournaments.
Some officials from South Jersey non-public programs have expressed opposition to such a format, as have many officials from North Jersey non-public programs.
"This is not what the South wants," Mitchell said of the current format. "But it's what the North wants and the NJSIAA isn't strong enough to stand up to them."