NJSIAA Ending Tournament of Champions Misses Value of New Jersey High School Sports
On Wednesday, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) started the process of eliminating the Tournament of Champions part of the New Jersey High School Sports Postseason. If the motion receives approval on the second reading in December, the Tournament of Champions events will end beginning with the 2022-23 season. According to NJSIAA executive director Coleen Maguire, the NJSIAA ran a survey that discovered 14 of New Jersey's 15 High School Leagues approved of eliminating the Tournament of Champions. Maguire went on to make this statement:
“The status of our (Tournament of Champions) has been in and around our office for the last several years - We do not make this proposal lightly, but we do firmly believe it's in the best interest of all student athletes. - Our association is better served by all teams having a longer regular season as opposed to just serving five or six teams during the last week of the season."
Since 1989, the Tournament of Champions has functioned as a way of crowning a true "State Champion" in New Jersey and putting these athletes' accomplishments on the same playing field as many other states around the county. The "issue" with this system is that the no public school boys team had won the basketball TOC since Camden in 2000 and no teams from the Cape May-Atlantic County area has won it either. The lack of competitive balance in the state between North Jersey and South Jersey schools along with the advantages that the private schools have against their public school counterparts has been a frustration expressed by many. NJSIAA Assistant Director Al Stumpf emphasized this point:
“I’ve been in contact with the New Jersey Basketball Coaches Association and they’re in favor of giving up the TOC - They’d rather have another (regular season) week with their kids.”
To me, this is another example of the old saying "Throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Most states in the USA have overall state champions in most sports but New Jersey is going to throw away the Tournament of Champions because of a lack of competitive balance that is in part the NJSIAA fault. They created a competitive environment with an uneven playing field that favors the schools in North Jersey and metaphorically spits in the face of those Student-Athletes who represent South Jersey.
High School Sports is supposed to be more than just about the schools whose names are on the jerseys; Student-Athletes learn valuable life lessons through sports from accountability to work ethic to teamwork along with how to handle success and failure. Yes, athletes "Play to win the Game" but part of learning how to be a Winner is to experience loss and grow from that. Instead, NJSIAA executive director Coleen Maguire's priority is to give students something else:
"As we look ahead to emerging from the pandemic, we are especially mindful of the need to provide a positive experience and a positive outcome for as many student athletes as possible. Unfortunately, the TOC rarely leads to positive outcomes for all teams. It is our job to look at the big picture and all that we offer our student athletes and the impact our association has on all student athletes."
Terms like "Positive Experience" have subjective definitions depending on an individual's outlook on the world and this is a case where I ask: Are we really concerned about the Student-Athletes? High School Sports is supposed to be about the Young Athletes but instead, this feels like it's more about the Schools and their Coaches saving face. Not everyone can be a "Winner" in Athletics and now New Jersey can make sure more people feel "positive" at the end of their season. When a High School Football team is the South Jersey Group Four Champions what does that really mean? It feels like the next step up from "Participation Trophy".
At the Collegiate Level, many sports have division champions who play to become Conference Champions and then they go on to compete for a National Championship. Instead of being a reflection of the College model, the NJSIAA wants to make sure everyone has a "Positive Experience". What they don't understand is that winning and losing are not the measures of a 'Positive Experience". As a former student-athlete myself, I was not fortunate to play for many winning teams in my Teenage Years, but the lessons I learned from playing sports molded me into the person I am today. My "Positive Experience" was learning the value of hard work, never giving up, learning from the setbacks, teamwork, and Good Sportsmanship. If my High School Athletic experience was purely based on Winning and Losing along with having a "Positive Experience", would I have learned those lessons as a Student-Athlete?