The Super Football Conference increased competitiveness in the NJ
Fort Lee is one of dozens of North Jersey football teams that have seen more than their fair share of aerial combat, and that’s thanks to the creation of the Super Football Conference.
SFC, the country’s largest soccer league, is in its sixth season and has done beyond expectations by defusing the “public versus private” feud and increasing the number of competitive head-to-head matches.
Who could have imagined that four leagues spread across seven counties in northern New Jersey would band together and work together to tackle challenges that now include a global pandemic?
“Think about it. In New Jersey we have 113 schools that support each other, stick together, promote football and see it work,” said Rich Hansen, athletic director of St. Peter’s Prep and former president. of SFC. “It’s probably contrary to everything anyone has thought of New Jersey football and athletics in general.”
By creating more competitive schedules through a realignment of divisions and fair crossover, the SFC has helped its programs hold their place in a sport that has seen a slow and steady decline in participation nationwide over the course of of the past twelve years.
“That’s the best part of it,” said Fort Lee coach Charles Salame, whose school is part of the Ivy Division for programs struggling with participation. “If you’re a freshman that’s on the fence and you see your team losing 47-0, you’re probably going to say, ‘It’s not for me. “”
Where did it go well?
The SFC is the brainchild of Nutley athletic director Joe Piro, born out of discussions about how to solve the problem of public schools being forced to play in non-public schools – and regularly blown out – which was particularly prevalent in the north. from Jersey.
Piro and Hansen were members of a committee overseen by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association designed to find solutions.
“We were all really blinded because the hottest topic was ‘public / non-public’,” said Piro, the league’s first president, originally called the North Jersey Super Football Conference. “Well, there were so many lags on the public side, where you have programs that were killed by 40, 50 points per game. “
The SFC is seen as much more than an affected by the NJSIAA, which for decades has been urged to address this public / non-public issue.
“The Super Football Conference is a great example of sports administrators working together to provide opportunities for student-athletes and member schools,” said Colleen Maguire, Executive Director of the NJSIAA. “This collaborative approach to problem solving should be a role model for everyone. “
Solve the public vs non-public problem
The SFC offers few confrontations between public schools and non-public ones. In most cases, this has benefited both parties.
Ridgewood, for example, no longer faces Big Six powers such as Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco and St. Joseph. Prior to SFC, the Maroons have lost their previous four encounters to non-publics by an average score of 38-9.
“It was really nice not having to play in these schools,” said Chuck Johnson, longtime Ridgewood coach, who also noted that these games had a carryover effect on subsequent games. “This is the biggest change, and I think it’s a really good change for public schools. “
As non-public schools compete more often and therefore suffer more losses, the overall quality of their play has improved. DePaul and Delbarton, for example, had reservations early on about regularly competing against teams such as Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco and St. Joseph, but they became two of the state’s main programs.
For proof, check out this week’s USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey Top 25 ranking, which is dominated by non-audiences from the SFC. (DePaul’s 14-7 win on Friday over Delbarton was the state’s marquee weekend game.)
“The level of play is so good, the level of football is so good, that it attracts a lot of very good athletes,” DePaul coach Nick Campanile said. “Athletes who want to play at the highest level in college tend to want to come to our schools, the non-public ones, in North Jersey.”
Planning for success
The SFC schedule is managed by Westwood athletic director Danny Vivino who wants us to remember the numbers 3-3-3. These are the numbers he has in mind when establishing a master plan, while also considering special requests, such as maintaining long-standing rivalry games.
“It’s three games where you’re probably a favorite and you should win, three games where you’re probably an underdog and three tossups,” Vivino said. “If you’re worth it, you’re probably going to win five games and advance to the playoffs. And if not, you lost to comparable teams and had a chance to make the playoffs. “
Last year’s NJSIAA playoffs were called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and dozens of games across Garden State have been postponed or canceled due to quarantines. With so many teams in the SFC, it was easier to find short-term replacement games.
“You very rarely have the opportunity to see a group of people come together as we were able to come together, stay together and persevere during the pandemic,” said Hansen, who resigned his post as St. Peter’s coach afterwards. the 2020 season. “And that sent a great message and I think it saved football programs in North Jersey.”
Last year also saw the launch of the Ivy Division, created to help programs struggling with participation. Fort Lee is one of the Ivy’s 16 teams, and four of its last 10 games have been decided by nine points or less. Before that, only four of the Bridgemen’s previous 30 games had been decided by single digit.
“I want every week to be competitive,” said Salame, whose Bridgemen followed a 0-10 season in 2019 going 4-2 last season and 3-1 this season. “It’s not that I don’t care about winning – of course I care about winning. But there’s not much to look forward to if you know you’re playing against a team that is far superior to you.
SFC: Past, present and future
In its second season competing in a pandemic, few can imagine that North Jersey football would be better if the teams had stayed in their respective leagues (Big North Conference, Super Essex Conference, Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League and Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference).
“When you have those numbers and that support, you can really climb mountains,” Piro said. “And we couldn’t have done it as SEC, we couldn’t have done it as Far North, we couldn’t have done it as NJAC or HCIAL. But we are capable for it. do as a Super Football Conference. “
The SFC also continues to build relationships with companies, including the New York Jets, which hosted League Media Day at MetLife Stadium in August, with the goal of growing the game by helping the region’s junior programs. .
“We have to start going to the youth level and see what we can do to help develop the sport,” said River Dell athletic director Denis Nelson, who is the current president of the SFC. “How can our conference support youth programs in member schools to help them increase their participation rate, not just over the next four years, but beyond, and make it generational?” “
Greg Mattura is a sports reporter for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, the latest news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To receive the latest news directly on your phone, Subscribe to our newsletter and download our app.