June 27, 2012

Changes coming in 2012-13 CAL sports

Sports Columnist

It seems like the Cape-Atlantic League makes significant changes every year.

This past season there were new alignments in baseball and softball that were never completely explained and a three-conference alignment in basketball that included two six-team tournaments. And the school season that begins in September will see even more changes.

First of all, in football the CAL has thrown out its pretty successful three-conference arrangement that saw 14 of its teams qualify for the NJSIAA Playoffs in two years – a remarkable number – and return to a two-conference arrangement that aligns teams basically by how well they played over the past few seasons, with some consideration of school enrollment.

The American Conference will comprise the mostly successful programs – Absegami, Atlantic City, Egg Harbor Township, Hammonton, Holy Spirit, Mainland, Millville, Oakcrest and St. Joseph. Those who have struggled a bit the past seasons are in the National Conference – Bridgeton, Buena, Cedar Creek, Lower Cape May, Middle Township, Ocean City, Pleasantville, St. Augustine and Vineland.

Among the rivalry results are Atlantic City-Holy Spirit, Mainland-Holy Spirit and Ocean City-Pleasantville as conference games; no Ocean City-Mainland game; and Vineland-Millville as a non-conference game for the first time in over 40 years.

Another result could be less teams from the CAL qualifying for the NJSIAA Playoffs. The teams that have been good (American Conference) will mostly be beating each other and the chances of the teams that have struggled (National Conference) might be limited by relatively unchallenging schedules.

Quite frankly, though there might have been other reasons for these changes, none of the smaller schools wanted to play St. Joseph. There are probably a couple of the larger schools that have reservations, too, but somebody has to face the Wildcats. Paul Sacco has made St. Joe into the best small school program in New Jersey and their consistent success might also be an obstacle if the CAL talks to the West Jersey Super Football Conference about a merger in the future.

One other change in football. There will now be a Group 5 in the NJSIAA Playoffs. It looks strange to just type that. Instead of dividing public schools into four groups there will now be five. Because the New Jersey Department of Education takes more time every year sending the official enrollment figures to the NJSIAA, there was no indication entering this week how the five groups would be aligned.

But, based on last year’s enrollment, Absegami, Atlantic City, EHT, Millville and Vineland would be in Group 5. Hammonton, Mainland and Oakcrest would be in Group 4. Bridgeton and Ocean City would be Group 3. And Buena, Cedar Creek, Lower Cape May, Middle Township and Pleasantville would be Group 2. But some of those might change when the new enrollment figures are released soon.

There will also be changes in CAL and NJSIAA basketball.

The CAL will expand its tournament from six to eight teams. The league is also adding Atlantic Tech to its schedule and placing the Red Hawks in the smallest United Conference. The teams in the American and National Conferences, unchanged from last season, will each play crossover games against two teams from the other conference. Because Atlantic Tech gives the United Conference eight teams and the other conferences have seven, the United teams will not be scheduled to play crossover games.

There will also be automatic crossover games scheduled for the teams that do not qualify for the tournament and for those who lose in the first round of the tournament. The top two teams in each of the three conferences will automatically qualify for the tournament. The remaining two teams will be chosen by a committee of CAL athletics directors using an unannounced criteria. That same committee will determine the seeding of the eight teams.

The NJSIAA Basketball Tournament will continue to allow the top 16 teams in each group to play. And there will still be a cutoff date during the first weekend of February. But there are some changes.

Only a team’s first 16 games will count toward NJSIAA qualification. All teams who win at least eight games will qualify. If there are less than 16 teams with .500 or better records, the remaining teams will be determined by a rating system, not by won-lost record. And, once the 16 teams have been selected, they will be seeded by that same rating system, not by won-lost record.

The NJSIAA expects this same system, with some modifications, to be used in the near future (possibly in the coming school year) for field hockey, baseball, softball and lacrosse. A similar system is already being used for soccer.

Next week, a look at rules changes in high school sports for 2012-13.

Read more of Tom Williams' columns