High school football in New Jersey may change dramatically in 2016 as a result of the NJSIAA’s vote to create a separate conference for non-public high schools.
NJSIAA members voted, 215-128, Dec. 7, with two members abstaining, to make the change. However, there is a possibility that the decision could be overturned by state Education Commissioner David C. Hespe.
In addition, the NJSIAA voted, 216-212, to create two non-public districts and one non-public region for wrestling.
“If the commissioner believes this is not in the best interests of the schools, he can rule against it,” Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School Athletic Director Joe Montano said.
While such a decision is not likely before Jan. 1, Montano noted that there is a precedent.
In 2009, a rule that would have public and non-public schools competing in separate divisions at the district and region tournaments was rejected by Lucille Davy, the education commissioner at the time.
For his part, Montano, who is also the secretary for the Shore Conference, said he was disappointed by the NJSIAA vote. He added that the votes were sparked by a push from several dominant Big North Conference schools that have long done well in both sports. “At RBC, we take great pride in being a member of the Shore Conference, and we work hard to follow all of the rules,” Montano said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues with the rules throughout the state for public and non-public schools.”
Should Hespe accept the vote, Montano said RBC would first consult with the diocese and then possibly other schools to determine a course of action, if any.
“What’s next?” he asked. “Another sport? Total separation? How far can this go? I don’t know what this means for the NJSIAA. That is a private governing body, and schools are voluntary members. Any school can leave if it wishes. St. Benedict’s left to play as an independent and play schools from out-of-state. I respect what they did.”
When asked if RBC could leave the NJSIAA, Montano said, “First, we’ll wait for the commissioner to make a decision. Then we’ll look at what our options are and make a decision.”
The RBC athletic director added that until a decision is final, it will be difficult for schools to finalize overall athletic schedules as football dates will have a ripple effect for field usage and transportation.
“This is not just about football and wrestling; it affects every sport,” he said. “Still, no matter what happens, the teachers, staff and coaches here at Red Bank Catholic are going to make sure it’s a great situation for our kids.”