Get ready for two major changes in high school football in New Jersey.
The first change is an additional round of playoffs.
The second change is the installation of instant replay to review turnovers and scoring plays.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association football playoffs will now add one more round, crowning a “North” and a “South” champion for each of the five public Groups.
The current playoff format has been in existence since 1974. The playoffs have always ended with the sectional title games for each of the five Groups (prior to 2012, there were only four Groups). The four sections are North Jersey Section 1, North Jersey Section 2, Central Jersey and South Jersey. Each section had eight teams qualify for the playoffs, based on power-point rankings.
Beginning this fall, the top 32 teams in each Group in the state will qualify for the playoffs. The ranking will be based on a revised power-point formula, which will combine the current formula with a formula known as the Born Power Index. Those 32 teams will then be “cut” into four sections, based on geography. The Northern top 16 will make up the North 1 and North 2 sections, and the Southern top 16 will make up the Central and South sections.
The sectional title games will be held the weekend before Thanksgiving. Traditionally, the sectional title games were held during the week after Thanksgiving.
The sectional winners will then advance to “Bowl” games at a neutral site, most likely MetLife Stadium, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Games on Thanksgiving will remain. Thus, the season will end the same exact weekend as in the past.
The “Bowl” games will involve the North 1 champ against the North 2 champ, and the Central Jersey champ against the South Jersey champ in each Group.
For the non-public teams, up to 12 teams will qualify for the playoffs in each Group, with the top six possibly receiving first-round byes. For the highly-competitive Non-Public Group 3 and Group 4, the teams will be seeded by a seeding committee.
The season will now begin as early as Thursday, August 30 (Week Zero), which is Labor Day weekend, though teams do not have to start that early. All games leading up to the Oct. 27 (Week 8) cutoff will count towards the playoffs.
Consolation games for non-playoff teams will remain. A second consolation game can be played for those non-playoff teams, as well as for playoff teams that were ousted in the first round.
For the first time ever, high school football in New Jersey will utilize instant replay to review calls on touchdowns and turnovers. Hudl Sideline, a computer software system, will use videos for instant replay, with a minimum of four cameras (two for each team) preferably on the sideline and end zone angles.
Each team will be given one challenge per half. Unused challenges will not be carried over into the second half. Unused challenges in the second half will not be carried over to overtime.
A coach must use a timeout to challenge the previous play. If a challenge is successful, the team will be given an additional challenge and will not be charged a timeout (each team has three timeouts per half). In the last three minutes of the game, a challenge will be granted if all three timeouts were used or if a team has already used its second-half challenge. However, a 5-yard penalty will be accessed if a challenge is unsuccessful. There will be no challenges permitted in the last two minutes if a team is leading by 17 points or if a running clock (a 35-point lead) is in effect.
Orange High School assistant Carlos Hawkins and West Orange High School head coach Jim Matsakis expressed their take on the changes to Worrall Media.
Hawkins said instant replay will prove beneficial, though he feels the time of the game will probably be longer.
With the extended playoffs, teams are going to start official practice early, which will cut into vacations, Hawkins said. In addition, there might not be much margin for error when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs. If you have two or three losses during the season, that might hurt your chances of making the playoffs, Hawkins noted.
Hawkins’ son, Nyquee Hawkins, is a rising senior for the Tornadoes and one of the top-rated cornerbacks in the nation. The 6-foot, 180-pound Hawkins this spring committed to Virginia Tech among several major scholarship offers. He is ranked No. 37 in his position in the nation by rivals.com.
Matsakis said he likes the extended playoffs, but wants it to go even further. “I absolutely love it. I think New Jersey (ought) to play down to one true champion (in each Group).”
However, Matsakis is not a fan of playing two consolation games.
“If you’re not a playoff team, your season should finish when you play your last game.”
Matsakis favors instant replay.
“I think instant replay will be a great addition to our sport. Anything that gets the call correct is a great idea.”
Matsakis feels there should be more changes. Spring football should be allowed, which will help in the college recruiting process, he said.
“I think the next step for New Jersey would be to have spring football practice to help promote our athletes. No other sport relies on high schools as much as football. With baseball summer teams, basketball summer tourneys, soccer academies, high school football is the only place colleges can evaluate athletes. We need to step up and have spring football so college coaches can evaluate our athletes during their spring evaluation period.”