Sussex County Sports Blog

By Dan Cleary

8/14/2008 - Realingment Plan Disbands SCIL (Exclusive to MugsMedia.Com)

 

   The wait is over.
  
After convening earlier this year, the committee charged with trying to solve the competitive balance issue in high school sports in New Jersey is set to deliver its findings and recommendations to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Committee this week.
  
The Executive Committee will review and then vote on the plan which could be put in place as early as September 2009.
   
MugsMedia.com received an exclusive look at the report to be filed by the Leagues and Conferences Realignment Committee (LCRC) this week which disbands 13 of the 21 conferences in the state for all sports, including the Sussex County Interscholastic League. Although the proposed plan says traditional rivalries such as Thanksgiving football games would be honored.
  
The committee realigned conferences north and west of Mercer and Middlesex counties, leaving the leagues in South Jersey and the 46-member Shore Conference alone. According to the report, 221 of the 420 member schools of the NJSIAA were part of the realignment plan.
  
The 170 schools that comprised 11 of the conferences located in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties will be broken up into four “Super Conferences” based on school size, location and fairness of competition. The plan does not separate the non-public from the public schools, but does spread out the non-publics to equalize competition, according to the report.
  
The 10-member schools of the SCIL—High Point, Hopatcong, Jefferson, Kittatinny, Lenape Valley, Newton, Pope John, Sparta, Vernon and Wallkill Valley—will be placed in the 42-member “Conference 4” which is divided into five divisions based on size and location.
  
Division A is made up of eight schools which are the largest schools in the conference. Randolph, Vernon, Morris Knolls, Roxbury, Morristown, High Point, Sparta and Pope John make up the new big school division.
  
The rest of the SCIL schools, Jefferson, Wallkill Valley, Newton, Lenape Valley, Kittatinny and Hopatcong will join Morris County schools Dover and Morris Catholic in Division D, the second smallest division in the conference.
  
West Morris, Mt. Olive, Mendham, Montville, Parsippany Hills, Morris Hills, Parsippany and Delbarton make up the B Division. Orange, West Essex, Chatham, Hanover Park, Weequahic, Caldwell, Central (Newark) and Morristown-Beard comprise the C Division.
  
The E Division will house all of the smaller schools, Pequannock, Madison, Mountain Lakes, Kinnelon, Whippany Park, Boonton, Butler, St. Elizabeth’s, Villa Walsh and Newark Academy.
  
There was no mention in the report about vocational schools like Sussex Tech which do not belong to a conference. But according to MugsMedia.com sources, the schools which comprised the new vocational school league last year will stay in that league. Only vocational schools that were already members of one of the affected conferences were part of the realignment plan, like Passaic Tech in Wayne, which is part of Conference 2, Division B. 
  
Conference 2 is made up of 46 schools in Passaic, Bergen and Hudson counties, while Conference 1 will be made up of 33 schools from Essex and Bergen counties. Conference 3 will house 49 schools from Bergen and Passaic counties.
 
A fifth Conference will comprise all 26 schools from Union County and Conference 6 is basically the old Skyland Conference with the addition of Pingry and Gill St. Bernards. Conference 7 is a football only conference that divides the Union County and Skyland Conference into four divisions based on size and location.
  
Some non-public schools of note like Don Bosco Prep, St. Peter’s Prep, St. Joseph’s of Montvale, Immaculate Heart Academy and Bergen Catholic were also part of the plan. National and state power Don Bosco will be in Division B of Conference 2 along with Clifton, Passaic Tech, Passaic, Paterson-Kennedy and Paterson Eastside. None of the non-public powers will face each other in division play, but could play each other in cross-division clashes.
  
The realignment plan is the fifth since 1982 when the state was mandated to include parochial and urban schools in conferences after those schools complained that they couldn’t gain entry to local conferences, which made for an unlevel playing field when it came to qualification for state tournament play.
  
The report makes no mention of the state tournament, which will remain the same for all sports, according to sources. The state’s four sections (North 1&2, Central and South) and six groups (Group 1-4, Non-Public A and B) will not change at this time.
  
The report does not address scheduling specifically, but does note that “conferences should be free to make assignments, determine their own governance structures and procedures and make name designations for themselves and the divisions; mandatory scheduling within divisional opponents should be maintained for at least two, preferably, four years, to assure stability.”
  
As far as the local schools, not much changed for the small schools and the proposed plan should be pleasing to Wallkill Valley, which has led the charge on realignment for the last decade. The Group 2 schools will no longer have to face Pope John, Group 4 Vernon and Group 3 schools Sparta and High Point.
  
As for Vernon, this is the perfect opportunity for it to flex its muscles and compete with similar-sized schools, which should be a boost for the football team which virtually had to 8-0 or 7-1 every year to qualify for the states due to a lack of power points playing against the small schools.
  
Travel will be an issue for the larger schools with High Point and Vernon having to trek to Morristown, Morris Knolls in Denville, Randolph and Roxbury. Although, Roxbury and Randolph are not too far from Hopatcong, which was a member of the SCIL for over 30 years. 
  
High Point Superintendent John Hannum has been vocal in his displeasure with any proposed realignment. But if the report is passed, it is better than the rumors that were floating around that High Point would have to travel to face schools like Ramapo, Indian Hills and Pascack Valley in Bergen County.  
  
There are still plenty of questions out there regarding the plan and how it will be executed, like starting times during the winter. Will varsity games still be played at 7 p.m. or will they start earlier when say High Point and Morristown play? Or will the longer travel days be scheduled on Friday nights or weekends? That could be a solution.
  
In the spring and fall, will baseball and softball and boys and girls soccer play at the same site to save on fuel? That idea is already being debated in the SCIL for the 2009 baseball and softball seasons. And what about scheduling? With eight teams, that means seven division games for football, track and wrestling and 14 games for the other sports like basketball, soccer, baseball, field hockey, etc.  Schools will still have to fill out their schedule with independent games.
 
And the report does not mention volleyball, lacrosse and ice hockey which have their own leagues due to the limited number of schools which compete. The report also doesn’t address sub-varsity sports and how it will affect them.
  
Plus, these new conferences and divisions have to form an executive committee and make new rules, which could be a nightmare for the athletic directors and school principals.
  
It is safe to say there is a lot of work that has to be done. And after getting a quick look at the report I’m still digesting the ramifications, so I can’t say I’m for it or against it right now. But I definitely will make a stand in the near future.
  
I can say now, however, that as former athlete in the SCIL and having covered it for the last 20 years, I will be sad to see it go. I’ve said in the past that football definitely needed to be realigned for competitive balance, but the other sports were fine in the SCIL.
  
So we will see if the plan works. Who knows, it could be shot down by the Executive Committee, but probably will just be tweaked at most. But the times are a changing in the state and NJSIAA just took a major step in that direction. Let’s hope it is one in the right direction.
  
That’s it for now, see you on the sidelines.
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