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NJ Football Playoff History: A century of changes that shaped today’s state tournament

History of the NJSIAA Football Playoffs

  • 1919: The NJSIAA declared their first football champions. Barringer was awarded the Public Championship and the Peddie Institute (now Peddie School) the Prep School Trophy. According to a 2022 report by cjsportsradio.com, it was around 1919 when the NJSIAA added a clause to its charter that would prevent expansion into group champions for nearly 100 years. The clause simply said: “In football, no national champion should be declared.”
  • 1937: The NJSIAA adopted the Colliton system developed by J. Whitney Colliton, a Trenton math teacher. The system was so revolutionary, NJSIAA Secretary Walter E. Short explained: “I don’t know of anything like it anywhere in the country. It really is a scientific solution to our problems.” However, like any system, it was far from perfect. The system did not take into account head-to-head results and controversy arose as a result. Despite the problems and complaints, the collision system remained in use until 1974. Prior to 1937, the NJSIAA used the Dickinson grading system, which used wins and group size to declare champions.
  • 1974: Warren Wolf, the late and legendary Brick High School football coach, chaired a special Football Playoffs Committee to select teams for the first state tournament. Teams had to register after week 4 of the regular season. Interestingly, many teams have chosen not to compete in the state tournament, leaving some section champions yet to be declared by the NJSIAA and their scoring system. Only two teams would be selected per section. According to cjsportsradio.com account: “The qualifiers must be separated by a certain number of points. If the numerical gap between #1 and #2 was too great, a champion was declared. Of 16 potential public playoff games, only eight were actually played. There was instant controversy when in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4, four teams carried unbeaten records in Thanksgiving but were not selected for the playoffs – Westfield, Morris Knolls, Morristown and Barringer.
  • 1975: The Skyland conference called for changes to the ranking formula. Under pressure, the NJSIAA adopts a “Power Points formula” that treats only wins and losses, with “quality points” for group size. Vineland, then a Group 4 school, was far from perfect, expressing concern that South Jersey didn’t have enough large schools to play and insisting on awarding points for playing at Philadelphia schools receive. Again, it was a complaint the NJSIAA would hear often after the playoffs began.
  • 1998: The playoff field is expanded to eight teams per bracket. However, with the expansion came a new rule that required playoff qualifiers to have a record .500 or more after eight regular-season games. Byes were awarded if there were fewer than eight qualifiers.
  • 2000: Mike VanZile, then Wallkill Valley football coach and assistant athletic director, proposed an overhaul of the group classification and qualification systems. The suggestion would:
  1. Eliminate conferences and create 10-team groups based on geography and registration.
  2. Eliminate power points and allow the top four teams in each group to qualify for the playoffs.
  3. Add a consistent start date with no bye weeks.
  4. Let Thanksgiving games stay intact.
  5. Mix public and church (non-public) schools.
  6. Add two more weeks to the season to become Group Champion.
  7. It was the first attempt to bring New Jersey into line with other states’ playoff formats.
  8. Though the plan contained elements today, it never garnered much support across the state amid concerns over the loss of traditional holiday rivalries, extended travel, an earlier start date and a two-week extension to the season. At least three attempts to implement the plan failed with changes each time. There was also a separate plan that would include group champions, proposed by then East Brunswick coach Marcus Borden, which failed over the next 13 years, but voting would draw closer over the next decade, losing by just 23 votes in 2010.
  • 2003: Due to the geographic imbalance, the NJSIAA redistributed football programs. Previously, teams were divided into sections based on geography, often including county boundaries. North 1 had consisted of schools in Hudson, Bergen, Passaic and Sussex counties. North 2 consisted of Union, Essex, Morris and Warren counties. Central included the parishes of Middlesex, Monmouth, Somerset, Mercer and Hunterdon. Ocean and Burlington were merged with South Jersey counties. However, this configuration created a sectional imbalance. There were 92 schools in the South, 82 in Central, 88 in North 1, and 74 in North 2. After two years of discussion and planning, some Somerset County schools were moved to North 2 while others remained in Central. Warren, Morris, Essex and Bergen were split between North 1 and North 2. Some Greater Middlesex teams were also sent to North 2.
  • 2012: The NJSIAA adds Group 5 and creates 20 public school sections. To fill in the brackets, the NJSIAA dropped the rule requiring a record of .500 or better at the cutoff.
  • 2013: The Big North Conference led another attempt to create a group championship playoff but was overwhelmingly defeated by the NJSIAA membership. After the movement suffered a fourth defeat in 13 years, another vote would not take place until 2021.
  • 2016: As high-performing non-public programs struggled to fill their schedules, the NJSIAA introduced a “multiplier concept” into their playoff formula. The goal was to make teams like Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic, St. Peter’s Prep, Pope John, Delbarton, and St. Joseph (Mont.) more attractive to public schools. North Jersey Parish School Planning received additional Energy Points. Playing against a United Red Division team earned a public opponent double the points regardless of the outcome of the match. United White’s opponents were worth 1.5 times the points. The NJSIAA also changed the power points system again, allowing each team to eliminate their game with the lowest power points from their qualifying total.
  • 2017: After numerous complaints about the multiplier system, the NJSIAA set standard rewards for playing non-public teams. Teams playing United Red opponents were awarded 54 points for a win, 36 for a loss. United White’s opponents were worth 38 points for a win and 32 for a loss.
  • 2018: The NJSIAA made the most significant changes to its playoff system since its inception in 1974. The New Jersey United Committee — a group of sports administrators and coaches from across the state — created a plan that brought together elements of two competing playoff-changing proposals. A second playoff metric has been added in addition to the Power Points system. The Born Power Index (BPI), developed by math teacher Bill Born and used for decades for county basketball tournaments, has been added to the football playoff formula. Each team was ranked based on a Power Points average and the Born Power Index. Power points accounted for 40 percent and BPI for 60 percent to determine a United Power Ranking (UPR) for each public school team. The UPR helped seed public brackets. Problems with the combined system quickly surfaced with the Born rankings, however. It became apparent that teams were rewarded for larger win margins. Since the profit margin was not limited, teams were encouraged to earn points to improve their position in the playoff rankings. Non-public qualifiers were, and still are, selected by the committee. In 2018, NJSIAA also introduced “Super Sections”. Each of the five public groups was split into North and South, with 16 qualifiers in each super section. It was the first time that the state tournament went beyond crowning section champions. The winners in North 1 and North 2, and South and Central met in Regional Bowl Championships—just one game away from crowning the group champions. Bowl championships were held at MetLife Stadium, and section finals were sent back to the higher seed teams to host.
  • 2019: The NJSIAA removed the Born Index from their ranking system and replaced it with a Strength Index. The NJSIAA also eliminated Northing numbers. Instead, a “snake” system was introduced, seeding the top 16 teams in each section. One section contained the teams ranked 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 12th, 13th and 16th. The other section contained the teams ranked 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 15th Snake system leads to long travel distances. In 2022 alone, a team traveled 82 miles and 83 minutes each way and an additional two hours and 103 miles one-way.
  • 2020: For the first time since the playoffs began in 1974, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been no state playoffs. Some teams played six fixtures. Conferences were allowed two weeks of postseason in a format of their choice. Shortly after the end of the 2020 season, significant changes would occur in New Jersey football.
  • 2021: In January, NJSIAA members voted to allow soccer championships, removing from the constitution the phrase that “soccer shall not declare state champions.” The successful vote paved the way for the crowning of the first public group champions. Under an agreement, the season would not be extended further than the first weekend in December. Thanksgiving Day games would not be affected. The measure was overwhelmingly approved by NJSIAA members in June.
  • 2022: The NJSIAA is holding public group championships at Rutgers Stadium for the first time this weekend.

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Joe Zedalis reports on the Shore Conference for football NJ.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Josephzedalis

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