ROBBINSVILLE - The Holy Spirit High School football team will begin next fall as the favorite to win a state title.
That doesn't make coach Charles Roman happy.
The Spartans won the Non-Public III championship last year. They drop to Non-Public II this fall, under a realignment approved Wednesday by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's executive committee. The NJSIAA reclassified the schools by enrollment.
"The N-J-whatever-it-is had an opportunity to do something really good and instead went the other way and completely blew it," Roman said in a phone interview Wednesday.
The realignment also affected St. Joseph, which won the state Non-Public II title last fall but now drops to Non-Public I. The Wildcats will be the overwhelming favorite in that group. St. Augustine Prep remains in Non-Public IV.
Roman said he doubts that eight teams in the nine-team Non-Public II group even will have the .500 records necessary to make the postseason.
"There are nine teams in our group, and half of them have never seen a .500 season," he said. "Our kids get cheated out of at least one game, if not two games. This is a mockery."
In other business Wednesday, the NJSIAA executive committee approved a budget that doesn't cut any championships in 2011-12 but still leaves the organization with a perilous financial future.
Holy Spirit finished 12-0 and beat St. Joseph-Montvale 14-13 to win the state Non-Public III title last fall. Spirit returns a core of talented players. Speculation in the local football community is that the Spartans could be better in 2011 than they were in 2010.
The NJSIAA last year was forced to consolidate the Non-Public schools into three groups - without a Non-Public I - because some parochial schools closed and others didn't field football teams.
Roman said the NJSIAA should have placed the state's 37 non-public football teams into three groups of 12, 12 and 13.
"They could have had three highly competitive leagues," he said. "This is bad math by somebody."
In addition to Holy Spirit, Non-Public II features four other southern New Jersey schools: Camden Catholic, Bishop Eustace, Gloucester Catholic and Holy Cross. The northern New Jersey schools - Marist, Montclair Kimberley, Pingry and Queen of Peace - are not traditional football powers.
Roman said he will miss the opportunity to play northern New Jersey Non-Public III powers DePaul, Pope John XXIII, St. Joe-Montvale and Immaculata.
"We're not going to get to play against the best competition," he said. "We're going to start to lose a little bit of respect. People are going to say, 'They only play against a Group II schedule,' and there's no way to prove that you're any better."
St. Joe also is expected to be one of the region's top teams.
The Wildcats won the Non-Public II title last year by winning 50-7 and 40-0 over St. Anthony of Jersey City in the semifinals and St. Mary's of Rutherford in the final, respectively.
St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said he also wasn't pleased that new groups would probably result in fewer than eight teams making the playoffs.
"You spend half your season hoping other teams make the playoffs, so you can get some games," he said.
The Wildcats have won 13 state titles, and several times they have had to play a championship game before Thanksgiving because fewer than eight teams qualified for the postseason. State championship games in nearly every group are played the first weekend in December, after the Thanksgiving Day rivalry games.
"I hope if they go with this everybody gets a chance to play (a championship) game in December," Sacco said. "It's so much different to have a state championship game be your last game. You really get to kick back and spend time enjoying the season."
The NJSIAA executive committee approved a $5.4 million budget that projects a deficit of $405,000 for the 2011-012 school year.
NJSIAA officials said a law that went into effect last year prohibiting the NJSIAA from charging more for state-tournament tickets than for regular-season events caused the 2011-12 budget deficit. There is an exception for events held in venues other than a high school, but the NJSIAA still has been forced to lower those prices, too.
The law's sponsor, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, has been a constant critic of the NJSIAA and has called upon the organization to cut staff and expenses.
NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko said the organization has cut expenses. He said the 2011-12 budget includes $70,000 fewer in expenses than the 2010-11 budget. He said NJSIAA salaries are frozen for the second straight year.
"We're looking to cut expenses everywhere we can," he said. "We're looking at printing costs. We've cut back on our awards."
He also noted that the NJSIAA sold $1,445,216 in tickets to its state championships this past winter. That was down from the $1,459,589.61 sold to state championships in the 2010 winter.
But Timko said the NJSIAA increased its profits by $135,000 from 2010 because it cut expenses.
"We've made every effort to comply with the legislation and still provide the same programs," Timko said.
The NJSIAA, however, still faces difficult financial decisions. The organization's surplus is dwindling. It had been more than $1 million but was $671,000 at the end of the 2009-10 school year.
Timko said the NJSIAA will continue ask the state Commissioner of Education's office for higher ticket prices for state championship events.
"We've been trying to project to the commissioner what our needs are," Timko said. "Hopefully, the commissioner will see where we are and there'll be some concessions."
But it's clear the organization faces tough financial questions.
Timko said he didn't want to talk about cutting programs, but that question is asked every time NJSIAA finances are discussed.
"The last thing we want to do is impact anything that happens to the student-athletes of New Jersey," he said.
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