While the NJSIAA back in December approved a plan to drastically alter the high school football playoffs for public schools, much is up in the air regarding how those teams will be ranked and seeded, according to NJSIAA Assistant Director Jack DuBois.
Today, the NJSIAA's power ranking committee will meet to look at a number of ideas on the table in regards to the method in which teams are ranked, seeded and placed in sections.
Currently, teams are grouped into sections by size and according to Northing numbers. Schools are assigned a number based on their geographic location. Higher numbers are further north, lower numbers are further south. With about 15-16 teams in each section, and 60 or so in each group, the northern most are in North Jersey, Section 1, the next 15 or so are in North 2, then Central, then South. From those sections, the top 8 teams in power points rankings make the playoffs.
The new proposal would make a major change in that section assignments would be decided when the season is done and the playoffs are seeded. Let's look at 2017. There were 16 teams in North 1, Group 5, and another 15 in North 2 Group 5. The top 8 teams made the playoffs. Under the new proposal, those 31 teams would be grouped into a "North" section. The top 16 teams based on whatever ranking system is used would qualify for the playoffs. Of those 16 teams, the eight northernmost schools would be in North 1, the 8 southernmost schools would be in North 2. They would play to a sectional title before Thanksgiving. Then, the previous Championship Weekend would be a "bowl weekend" where North 1 and North 2, Group 5 would face off, while South and Central would face off.
It's really a big tease for those who would like to see overall group champions. New Jersey is one of the few states that don't do it. But I see it as a potential predecessor. If this goes well, playing to an overall Group 5 champ is right around the corner, maybe just a few years off.
To me, the downside is that now, a school like Piscataway or Sayreville has many more potential opponents in the first few rounds of the playoffs, and thus would have more schools to scout if they start early in the season. It depends on the geographic concentration of the best teams.
In any event, DuBois says he doesn't want to talk about what comes out of today's meeting. At least not yet. But whatever plan (and maybe there's more than one) does emerge from today's confab will be discussed at a meeting of the leagues and conferences on February 27th.
How would 2017 have looked in 2018?
Would the 2017 playoffs have looked different under the new proposed seeding rules? Absolutely.
Let's start with the top 16 qualifiers, taking a look at North 1 and North 2, Group 5.
Taking the overall Top 16 rather than the Top 8 from each section, Ridge and Watchung Hills, both 4-4 with 79 points each, would not have made the playoffs. Instead, a pair of teams from North 1 would have qualified: Kennedy-Paterson (4-4, 93 pts) and West Orange (3-4, 83 pts). So, in this case, we've added two teams with higher power point rankings than Ridge and Watchung Hills, but one (West Orange) is under .500.
Taking those new 16 teams, we now sort them by Northing numbers. The 8 northernmost teams would go into North 1. The rest go into North 2. Then, those teams are ranked by power points.
In this potential example, North 1 would have, from top to bottom: Montclair, Passaic Tech, Clifton, Ridgewood, North Bergen, Bloomfield, Kennedy (Paterson) and West Orange. It's pretty similar to last year's lineup of Montclair, Passaic Tech, Union City, Clifton, Ridgewood, North Bergen, Bloomfield, and Livingston.
North 2 would have Union City, Westfield, Piscataway, Bridgewater-Raritan, East Orange, Livingston, Elizabeth and Bayonne. Compare that to last year which had Westfield as the top seed, followed by Piscataway, Bridgewater-Raritan, East Orange, Elizabeth, Bayonne, Ridge and Watchung Hills. Yes, Union City at 5-3 would have been seeded first above undefeated Westfield. That's because they benefitted from the bonus points derived from playing - despite losing to - St. Peter's Prep, a North Jersey Super Football Conference United Red Division team.
Who knows how the games would have shaken out. Granted, this is just one section, but in all, the difference is likely negligible.
My vote would be to keep power points as they are (though eliminate dropping the lowest score and counting all 8 games - as has been proposed) and keep the sections as they are. My guess is that some schools will benefit, some will not. But if things can't be better across the board, why make a change just for the sake of change?