Improving The NJSIAA Playoffs

Improving The NJSIAA Playoffs


Ryan Wydra @schoops1


GesickiAugust is finally here and you know what that means, football season is around the corner!  Many would consider football to be the leading sport in New Jersey. There is nothing like the energy that you can feel once the pads are on, and the hitting begins. When you are watching a team with a tremendous amount of potential, you can bet that the stands will be packed. There is something about the joy and excitement of this game. Nothing compares to Friday Night Lights!

The NJISAA has a specific playoff system that has been used for a very long time. This system is very unique compared to what is used for other sports. There are some similarities as the state brackets are still divided into North I, North II, Central, and South. However, the Non Public brackets are divided in a different way.  The Non Publics are divided into four groups. This is not the typical format with only Non Public A and B. .

In 2012 the NJISAA expanded the playoff system by creating another section for all the public groups. Group V was added to the system which has allowed more teams to qualify for the tournament. There have been many pros and cons to this situation. The additional bracket has given more teams the opportunity to compete in the state tournament which can be a  good thing. At the same time, this has also created some watered down competition. This has opened the door for sub .500 teams to get into the postseason. We have had more playoff games, but they have been extremely lopsided.


The eight teams with the highest powerpoints will qualify in each bracket. The State Tournament cutoff occurs after the eighth game is played. Teams accumulate points in the following ways. A team receives six points for a victory. They also receive points according to the group of the school that they defeated.  If the team defeats a Group 4 team, they would receive 4 points. If they beat a Group 1 team, they would receive 1 point.  The six points for the win and the group are added together. Another way a team can earn points is through residuals. A team will receive 3 points for every win a team has that they have beaten.  If a game ended in a tie, they will receive 1.5 points from that team.  Teams also accumulate points from opponents that they lost to.  They will receive 1 point for every other game that the opponent won.

Here is a perfect example

TEAM A  Group III (5-3) defeats TEAM B Group IV (6-2)

TEAM A receives 6 points for the win and 4 points for the group = 10

TEAM A also gets 6 X 3 = 18 residual points

TEAM A walks away with 28 power points from the win.

After the eighth game is played, each team in the bracket has an option to drop one game. The coaches must make a decision on which game to drop. It is the most beneficial to use the seven games with the most points.  The NJSIAA will then seed the eight teams according to their powerpoints.

While the system works , it can also be flawed in some ways. Strength a schedule is a huge fa ctor in how many points a team can receive.  A team that is in Group I can receive tons of powerpoints for defeating a team in Group V with a lot of wins. A team in Group V can also face a team in Group I and not gain a lot of points from the victory. The schools are grouped according to population, but that does not always refect the talent level.

Over the years, we have seen teams qualify for the playoffs with as few as two wins. The two win team got lots of powerpoints after scoring an upset victory over a  Group IV or V powerhouse program. We have also seen .500 teams left out of the postseason after being short by a few powerpoints. Many times it has been by a point or two. This really makes people wonder whether this is a fair system. How is it that one team in Group III can go 2-6 and make the postseason, while another in Group V can be shutout at 5-5. Teams really should have to be .500 or better to compete for a State Championship. The competition would be so much better.


First of all, it would be beneficial for the NJISAA to take the system back down to four groups. The uneven matchups of Group V has not been favorable for the state.  I cannot tell you how many blowouts we have seen in the first round of the state tournament since 2012.  There have been teams with three wins playing against undefeated teams. Many of the Sectional Championship games have been very uneven. Fans never want to see a championship game that ends in a score of 55-0. The Sectional Championship Game should be the most exciting game of the season. Players, Coaches, Parents, and Fans should be looking forward to this special time for the entire week. Furthermore, these games also create opportunities for players to get injured. Many times there is a tremendous difference in size and talent which can make it very difficult to compete. Going back to Four groups would allow the playoffs to be much more competitive. This would also prevent a lot of sub .500 teams from qualifying.

People have made suggestions about how the current system can be improved. Football is the one sport in NJ where we do not crown overall Group Champions. The playoffs end at the sectional level. Right now we have 24 brackets within the current system. After the season is over, 24 teams earn the right to call themselves State Champions. New Jersey actually crowns the most State Champions in the country!

This past year, several AD’s had a chance to vote on a new proposal. This proposal would have changed the current playoff system by allowing teams to compete up to the group level. The proposal would have brought NJ down to 9 State Champions. Unfortunately, this was turned down for a number of reasons. Two major concerns were brought up by school officials. Would playing off to the group level interfere with the start of Winter Sports? How would players be able to stay healthy if they are playing 14 games?  There is definitely a way that all these problems can be solved.


The best overall plan for football would be to use the baseball postseason model. A Tournament of Champions would be impossible, but the state could easily get down to Group State Champions. The public brackets would go back down to Four Groups. The Four Non Public Brackets can be converted into Non Public A, and Non Public B. With this model, the State of NJ would get down to 6 overall State Champions. This is the same amount of champions that end the baseball season.

Each program would have to start the season a week earlier. The Shore Conference is already experimenting with this scenario. Southern vs Central, and Donovan Catholic vs Pinelands will be on Friday September 4th. Everyone else is opening up the following week.

Teams would then play eight straight weeks with the bye week being removed. Schools could still keep the Thanksgiving Day rivalry game.  Many AD’s have already moved this game to Week 1. This has been very beneficial because coaches can avoid risking injuries before a state playoff game. The tournament cutoff would be right after Week 8, and the top 8 teams would still qualify.

The opening brackets would still play down to the sectional level. The only difference is that the sectional championship would be played at the higher seeded school. The sectional champions would advance into the State Semifinals. Both the Seminfinals and Finals would be played at neutral sites. The NJISAA could still use MetLife, Kean, Rutgers, and Rowan for the State Championships.

With starting the season a week earlier and cancelling the bye week, the season would finish around Dec 14-15. This would not be an issue for Winter Sports because only 12 teams would be playing in the Final Week. Winter Coaches may have to make some accommodations for certain players, but they would be very minimal. The Winter Season would still definitely start on time.

I believe that everyone should spend some time thinking about this situation. It would be very exciting to finally see the State of NJ with Group State Champions. 24 State Champions are just too many.  A large state like Texas is only crowning 12. Many times people have wondered how the playoffs would have ended.  How would the games have played out if we took the tournament one step further?  Here is the opportunity to discuss this alternative.

NJSR would love to hear feedback from AD’s, Coaches, Players, Parents, and Fans on this plan.