John Dubuque's Belleville team was only 3-5 at the eight-game cutoff last autumn, though had enough power points to be seeded eighth in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3.
But since the Buccaneers and the two teams immediately ahead of them--Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Morristown--all had sub-.500 records, they were ineligible for the playoffs and had to settle for NJSIAA consolation games. Dubuque, a first-year head coach, would have relished the opportunity to provide his kids with a playoff experience.
Next season, should Belleville find itself in an identical situation, that opportunity might be a reality.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association introduced a proposal on Wednesday that would expand the public school football playoffs from four groups to five, thus giving an additional 32 teams a chance to participate in the playoffs.
The number would actually be higher because tied into the proposal would be a measure allowing teams with below .500 records to be seeded in order to fill out the eight-team brackets in each section.
"I definitely agree with that proposal," Dubuque said. "Bring on more teams and bring on more opportunities to play. It would have been very tough for us last year, but it also would have been a great experience."
The proposal was approved by the NJSIAA's program review committee and also passed by the executive committee on first reading. The committee will vote again at its regular meeting May 9 and, if approved, will be put into effect for the 2012 season.
So, instead of 20 sectional championships being awarded, including four in non-public, there would be 24. The number of public schools participating in the playoffs would grow from 128 to 160.
"That certainly expands the opportunity for student-athletes and schools," said NJSIAA associate director Jack DuBois. "That will have major implications in the new public division. Schools will have a choice now. I can choose to play a consolation game, or I can enter the tournament under .500, or I can choose not to play."
A proposal that could have led to a more exclusive post-season--playing down to a single champion in each group--was narrowly defeated last December at the full meeting. There were 285 members present and 167 yes votes, which fell 23 shy of the two-third majority required to change the constitution.
Under the new proposal, group sections would be reduced from 19-to-20 teams to 15, meaning that more than half would reach the playoffs and fewer would have to spend a week in practice preparing for what DuBois called "the dreaded consolation games.
"This creates more of a championship atmosphere. You've got chance to move on," he said. "And it eliminates more of those consolation games, which ADs and schools hate. No one wants to host them."
Though the additional of a fifth public school group may seem revolutionary, the inclusion of sub.-500 teams actually would bring football more in line with other sports, which have been filling out their tournament brackets that way for several years.
That has made for a fair share of lopsided first-round games, for sure, but also lent drama and surprise to the proceedings in a number of sports. The Bloomfield Tech boys basketball team was 5-11 two years ago at the cutoff in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1, yet reached the semifinals before bowing to eventual state champion Newark University. The 2010 Mendham lacrosse team captured the Group 2 state title with a 9-11 record.
Both played in very competitive conferences and were not punished for their rigorous schedules.
That playoff excitement has eluded Dubuque both as a head coach and a player. He played football at Glen Ridge when only four teams qualified per section, and his squad sat out in 1993 and '94 despite records of 6-2 and 5-3, respectively. The fields were expanded to eight teams for the 1998 season.
"We were a pretty tough team and we would have been in if it was eight teams then," Dubuque said. "The state made the right move when they expanded to eight teams and I think this makes strides in the right direction, too."
In another football matter, the NJSIAA advisory committee approved a proposal that would alter the current Non-Public playoff structure from four statewide groups to four sectional groups, Non-Public A and B in both South Jersey and North Jersey.
That also will go to the executive committee for a vote next month, but would have to go to the full membership for a vote in December because it would mean a change to the organization's constitution and bylaws. If passed in December, the four-section format would be implemented for the 2013 season.
The proposal passed by a 12-2 margin, with the dissenting votes coming from Immaculata and Union Catholic, according to DuBois. Bishop Eustace was the only non-public school on the panel to vote in favor of the plan.
DuBois said the committee had received letters of objection from DePaul, St. Joseph of Montvale and Pope John prior to the vote. All played in Non-Public Group 3 last season and, in fact, St. Joseph claimed the title with a victory over Delbarton. All three under the proposal would move to North Jersey, Non-Public A, where they would have to contend with current Group 4 powerhouse Don Bosco Prep as well as Bergen Catholic and St. Peter's Prep.
Mike Kinney covers football, basketball and lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS