With every other South Jersey high school football team involved in the West Jersey Football League, the members of the Cape-Atlantic League and Colonial Conference have turned to each other to ease scheduling problems.

The CAL and Colonial Conference have a tentative agreement to play crossover games in 2014 and 2015.

“It’s not a merger,” CAL president and Mainland Regional athletic director Mike Gatley said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s two conferences that are looking to marry up to give every program in both of their leagues somewhat of an even playing field.”

The Colonial and CAL would look to join the West Jersey Football League and form a South Jersey Super Conference in 2016. The WJFL consists of 66 schools mostly in Gloucester, Salem, Camden, Burlington and Mercer counties.

“We’re looking to evaluate and put in an application for the West Jersey in 2016,” Gatley said. “We want to get into the West Jersey Football League.”

The CAL voted 16-1-1 on Monday to approve the agreement. The administrations of the Colonial Conference schools will now consider the plan. Eight of the Colonial Conference’s 12 schools must approve the proposal for it to take effect. Gatley said he expected the Colonial to make a decision in the next few weeks.

Gatley sounded optimistic about the plan in an interview Tuesday. Gatley said the crossover games would be played early in the season. He said scheduling details would be worked out when the Colonial superintendents approve the measure.

The plan would lead to games such as West Deptford vs. Mainland Regional; Haddonfield vs. Bridgeton; and Paulsboro vs. Pleasantville.

Both the CAL and Colonial teams would remain in separate divisions.

Under the plan, the CAL would be split into three divisions.

American: Millville; Atlantic City; Absegami; Egg Harbor Township; Vineland; St. Augustine Prep

National: Mainland Regional; Oakcrest; Ocean City; Cedar Creek; Holy Spirit

United: Bridgeton, Buena Regional; Middle Township; Lower Cape May Regional; Pleasantville and St. Joseph.

The CAL American Division teams would not play Colonial teams. The Colonial Conference consists of Group I and Group II schools.

American Division teams would have to find a non-conference game or play each other twice.

The most controversial part of the plan puts St. Joe in the United Division , where it would face Group II schools. St. Joe played in the CAL American the past two seasons against Group V schools.

The CAL realigned its divisions primarily by group size. That is the philosophy of the West Jersey Football League and such an alignment would make a smoother transition to the West Jersey Football League in 2016, according to Gatley.

That is why St. Joe is in the United Division. The Wildcats figure to be one of the state’s top teams in 2014 and 2015 and would be an overwhelming favorite against division opponents.

St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said last month that a return to the Wildcats playing the smaller enrollment schools in the CAL would be a step backward for the St. Joe program.

Under the proposed plan, St. Joe would play crossover games against Holy Spirit and St. Augustine. The Wildcats would also have to find a non-conference game. The Wildcats could have to find two non-conference games if their traditional Thanksgiving game with Hammonton cannot be scheduled for 2014 and 2015 because Hammonton is leaving the CAL after this season to join the West Jersey Football League.

“Is a system ever perfect?” Gatley said. “I always tell (the CAL schools) you kind of like it. You can love it or you can live with it. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, but there’s no way you’re going to be able to cook soup with Cape-Atlantic League football and solve everybody’s problem.”

Both the Colonial and CAL have scheduling problems. The CAL struggles because it has schools of different enrollments and because of how dominant its non-public programs are.

The CAL’s football troubles became an even bigger issue this fall when a winless Lower Cape May forfeited a game against undefeated Holy Spirit because of safety concerns. The league then required Lower to forfeit the remainder of its varsity games. Lower officials have said the school plans to return to a varsity schedule in 2014.

“There’s no way to create crossover games (in the CAL) that you give you competitive balance,” Gatley said. “You can’t do it.”

The Colonial also struggles with lopsided games. West Deptford beat Gateway 76-0 and Lindenwold 61-0 this season.

The Group II teams in the Colonial also struggle to accumulate enough power points to earn high playoff seeds. West Deptford was 8-0 when the playoff fields were finalized and only earned a No. 4 seed in the South Jersey Group II bracket. Teams earn power points based on their wins and their opponents’ enrollment and victories.

“I never would have thought in a million years that the Colonial Conference would share the (same) scheduling concerns as the CAL,” Gatley said. “Both leagues have schools on the top end and the bottom end (of winning and losing) that need help.”

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I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.

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