Time for a football super-conference?

Cherokee's Matthew Stickney runs against Eastern. A "super-conference" would preserve rivalries.
Cherokee's Matthew Stickney runs against Eastern. A "super-conference" would preserve rivalries. (RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: November 04, 2013

Paul VI and St. Augustine Prep should play each other in football: They are Non-Public 4 programs representing schools that draw students from similar geographic and socio-economic sections of South Jersey.

West Deptford and Delsea should play in football: They are multiple-time sectional champions with similar styles and lots of athletes who know each other from Gloucester County youth sports.

Millville and Cherokee should play in football: They are Group 5 programs with rich traditions, supportive fans, and deep, talented rosters.

Those matchups and many more could happen if a South Jersey super-conference was formed for football, if the West Jersey Football League merged with the Cape-Atlantic League and the Colonial Conference to create a 95-team alliance that would include every program in the seven counties south of Trenton.

And guess what? This isn't just an academic exercise. There are wheels turning - albeit slowly, and with predictable squeaks of complaint - in discussions between some coaches and administrators about the possibility of a massive merger that would ease recurring scheduling and competitive concerns.

Here's what we know: It's early November, and the 66 teams in the West Jersey Football League and 16 teams in the Cape-Atlantic aren't sure of their division affiliation and schedule for the 2014 season.

Uncertainty fills the air in this sport. Nobody knows how a general NJSIAA membership vote in December to allow state finals in public-school football starting in 2014 will go, although the smart money is leaning toward a thumbs-down because of concern over an earlier start to the season and further marginalization of Thanksgiving rivalries.

But with Hammonton leaving the Cape-Atlantic to join the Tri-County Conference - and, by extension, the WJFL - in September, there still is no firm plan for the Blue Devils' division membership or crossover schedule.

Part of the problem with that, according to WJFL president Bud Kowal, is that enrollment figures from the state Department of Education won't be available until December this year, nearly two months later than usual.

The Cape-Atlantic is back to Square One on the football alignment/scheduling front, thanks to a flare-up over Lower Cape May's recent forfeit to Holy Spirit and concerns about the competitive balance between its public and non-public programs.

A South Jersey super-conference couldn't completely solve that problem, but would create myriad opportunities for crossover games that would spread the challenge of playing non-public powers such as St. Joseph over a wider, more diverse league.

The benefits of the formation of the WJFL in 2010 were twofold: It created some dynamic new rivalries and crossover games but also maintained tradition.

A new super-conference could do the same thing: Keep all the Colonial Liberty and Colonial Patriot teams together in familiar divisions, for instance, but open the door for new crossover games rather than the unfortunate matchup of programs such as West Deptford and Gateway (which resulted in a 76-0 win for the Eagles on Sept. 13).

A new alliance could cluster all the Cape-Atlantic's Group 2 public programs in one division and create opportunities for programs such as Pleasantville and Lower Cape May to play crossover games against the likes of Salem and Wildwood.

There's no getting around the fact that some public schools will need to line up in the same division as St. Joseph, Holy Spirit, and St. Augustine, since an all-non-public division (or divisions) likely wouldn't be feasible because of travel issues and range in school size.

But the WJFL has multiple divisions that mix public and non-public programs. It's not a problem. Stiff competition, if regarded in the right way, can lead only to improvement.

Just ask Atlantic City coach Thomas Kelly, who has no problem with his team's facing non-public powers. He thinks better opponents will raise the level of his program.

What a concept.

It's beyond silly to try to devise an alignment that pleases everybody: This is the real world. Sometimes, you just have to tighten your chin strap and play the game.

But a super-conference could allow for some fascinating crossover games such as Gloucester vs. Audubon, Hammonton vs. Seneca, Cumberland vs. Bridgeton, Timber Creek vs. St. Joseph, Pitman vs. Gateway, Woodbury vs. Pennsville, Haddonfield vs. Bishop Eustace, Cherry Hill West vs. Mainland, Haddon Heights vs. Camden Catholic, and dozens and dozens more.

Traditional rivalries and Thanksgiving games could easily be preserved so that a blend of new and old could mix and invigorate the sport across the region in the same way the creation of the WJFL did for 65 teams in 2010.

Sure, it's a long shot. Sure, there are folks who will balk at the idea of change, especially in the tradition-rich Colonial Conference.

But with so much uncertainty in the sport and so many similar concerns, it might be the right time for administrators to step back, roll up their sleeves, and get creative.


South Jersey Super-Conference

If the West Jersey Football League merged with the Cape-Atlantic League and the Colonial Conference, the 95-team league could align this way. (Note: The Valley and Colonial Divisions, composed mostly of Mercer County teams, would remain the same with one exception: Lawrence would move out of the Patriot and replace Rancocas Valley in the Colonial.)

American Division

Cherokee

Eastern

Washington Twp.

Williamstown

Lenape

Rancocas Valley

National Division

Kingsway

Shawnee

Clearview

Pennsauken

Winslow Twp.

Cherry Hill East

Constitution Division

Timber Creek

Cherry Hill West

Moorestown

Paul VI

Seneca

Triton

Royal Division

Camden

Camden Catholic

Delsea

Woodrow Wilson

Bishop Eustace

Deptford

Diamond Division

Woodstown

Cumberland

Penns Grove

Schalick

Highland

Gloucester Catholic

Classic Division

Pennsville

Salem

Clayton

Gloucester

Glassboro

Pitman

Wildwood

Independence Division

West Deptford

Sterling

Collingswood

Haddonfield

Overbrook

Haddon Heights

Delaware Division

Paulsboro

Woodbury

Audubon

Haddon Twp.

Gateway

Lindenwold

Pinelands Divisions

Bridgeton

Cedar Creek

Buena

Middle Twp.

Pleasantville

Lower Cape May

Shore Division

Holy Spirit

Hammonton

Oakcrest

Mainland

Vineland

Ocean City

Osprey Division

St. Augustine

St. Joseph

Egg Harbor Township

Atlantic City

Absegami

Millville

Patriot Division

Burlington Twp.

Northern Burlington

Willingboro

Pemberton

Princeton

Liberty Division

Ewing

Cinnaminson

Delran

Bordentown

Holy Cross

Robbinsvile

Freedom Division

Florence

Burlington City

Palmyra

Maple Shade

New Egypt

Riverside

- Phil Anastasia


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/

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