ROBBINSVILLE — The NJSIAA Executive Committee was presented today with rule changes for high school football in 2020, and most notably, none of them involved the state’s playoff formula.
It will mark the first time since the 2017 season that the year will begin with no major changes to the playoffs.
In 2018, the NJSIAA introduced the Born Power Index to count as 60% of the playoff seeding formula, with 40% of the formula made up of traditional power points. Those numbers combined to form the United Power Rating, on which teams were seeded. But analysis by WCTC Sports discovered the BPI formula rewarded teams that won by larger margins with higher playoff seeding, leading to controversy, and a backlash from coaches, fans and administrators.
The NJSIAA responded – with a push from the New Jersey Football Coaches’ Association – by replacing the BPI with the Opponent Strength Index. Each team has a Strength Index number calculated similarly to the Born Power Index rating, but that rating isn’t used to seed teams. The rating of a team’s opponents are used instead, making it more sportsmanlike. Larger margins of victory drive down the rating of opponents, meaning it’s better to win by fewer points.
This year, those involved in evaluating the playoff system decided no changes would be made. The only decision that remained was whether to re-center all teams’ Strength Index numbers around a center point of 60, just as was done last year when converting the final 2018 Born Power Index numbers to the starting 2019 Strength Index numbers. The football committees decided to do that for a second straight year, in an effort to gain some stability and consistency.
But NJSIAA Assistant Director Jack DuBois did present to the Executive Committee several other rule changes for 2020.
Perhaps the biggest includes a change to the mercy rule. In the past, when a team goes ahead by 35 points or more in the second half, a running clock would be automatically used. A normal clock would return once the margin got under 35 points.
But a new rule for 2020 would reduce the threshold to 33 points. The thinking is that since kickers aren’t generally as reliable on the high school level, one or two missed PATs would result in the mercy rule not kicking in until the margin is 39 points or more.
In addition, the old rule restored a “normal” clock once the margin got under 35 points. The new rule requires the margin to drop under 25 points to be restored, still reachable with a single touchdown and two point conversion.
Another rule change is one made by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which sets the rules for high school athletics across the country. It would allow quarterbacks – or anyone lined up behind the center – to spike the ball to stop the clock from the shotgun formation. Previously, that was only allowed with a direct, “hand-to-hand” snap, as in when the quarterback lines up under center.
An explanation of some smaller changes – including resetting the play clock to 40-seconds after an official’s injury timeout for a defensive player or a defensive player’s equipment issue – can be found here.
DuBois also announced the state will continue with a third year of replay in high school football. He told WCTC one reason it really hasn’t been seen in any Greater Middlesex Conference games the last couple of years is that games utilizing replay are required to have six officials, and the GMC in the past has only assigned five per game. He hopes the GMC’s merger with the Mid-State Conference to form the Big Central Football Conference will result in an expanded use of replay.