N.J. decision to split private, public school football is overturned

December 29, 2015 / Athletic AdministrationFootball
A decision by New Jersey athletic directors earlier this month to separate public and non-public school football has been overturned by the state’s commissioner of education.

Football fieldState Commissioner of Education David Hespe announced his decision Monday, saying that while he understands the concerns of athletic administrators, the separation discriminates against non-public schools. Of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s 345 members, 215 voted in favor of the split. That decision is now nullified and the association is back where it started.

Public and non-public school football teams were expected to compete in different leagues beginning with the 2016 season.

From NorthJersey.com:

“I’m disappointed,” said River Dell Athletic Director Denis Nelson, a strong proponent of the separation proposal in football. “The strategic and competitive advantage non-public schools have is going to continue. I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s right. But it is in existence.”

“We’re back to where we were,” said Bergen Catholic Athletic Director Jack McGovern. “I don’t know that that’s a great place. But now we know the parameters we have to work with, and we will continue to try to make it better.”

In a letter to the NJSIAA, Hespe wrote: “It is clear that some NJSIAA member schools are frustrated by the non-competitive nature of playing elite non-public schools, raising both fairness and safety concerns. However, non-public schools have also raised concerns about discrimination, equal athletic opportunity and the ability to develop full schedules without increased burdens to the non-public schools.”

Athletic administrators at public schools were motivated by a competitive imbalance between public and non-public school football teams. Hespe said that splitting the two does not guarantee the competitive gap would close and it would prevent smaller programs from playing a full schedule, which “violates the state’s well-established policy of equal athletic opportunity.”

The NJSIAA plans to re-evaluate the situation after the holidays to examine how it will move forward.

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