Four division winners will meet in semifinals and championship game set for Feb. 23

The NJIC is going to stage its own Final Four.

Following the success of the NJIC Championship football game (won by Hasbrouck Heights) and a wrestling conference tournament finale (won by Emerson/Park Ridge) the 38-team group announced plans to stage a conference championship game for boys and girls basketball next winter.

“I just think it’s a win-win for everybody,” said NJIC executive director Stan Fryczynski, adding that the vote for the event by conference members was nearly unanimous.

“This was the next sport, the next step,” said St. Mary athletic director Matt Stone, who will oversee both tournaments.

This is not the first NJIC basketball tournament, and it’s all right if you have begun to get confused over all the different basketball events now staged in North Jersey in the winter. For the boys, there is the famed Bergen Jamboree, also the upstart Bergen Invitational Tournament, which has been a success using a neighborhood-based model not unlike college basketball’s NIT.

For the girls, there is the Bergen County tournament, won the last two seasons by Saddle River Day, a team in the NJIC, but one that plays an independent schedule in basketball.

Two years ago Stone started a girls NJIC tournament for teams not in the county tournament seeking a competitive venue for games. Last year, the NJIC tried the same thing for the boys. Midland Park won the girls championship, and Stone’s own St. Mary won the boys.

“The NJIC girls tournament was the first thing that we started, and that was because a lot were in the 28-32 range [in the county tournament] and getting blasted in the first round,” said Stone. “The idea grew from there to have our teams have a chance to play for something bigger.”

However, the new NJIC Conference Championship – no formal name has yet to be attached, sponsors welcome – will follow a similar model as the NJIC’s football plan. In a nutshell, the four division winners will meet in the semifinals on Feb. 21, with the two winners meeting for an overall conference championship two days later. The plan is to have the games at a neutral site. Felician University is one possibility.

The dates are the key. Feb. 21 and Feb. 23 are dates scheduled for NJIC divisional games. Those games will be played earlier in the year, just squeezed into the calendar. Teams will still play their full 16-game divisional slate. They are just losing two independent games.

Teams that finish second in their division will play the second place team in a corresponding division and so on – Stone called these the NJIC “Challenger” games.

There is a bit of an anomaly, while the boys have four nine-team divisions and it’s seamless, the girls have three divisions of eight and one of nine, but Stone has arranged for Mary Help of Christians to pick up a game during the challenger round to even out the schedule.

As usual, Fryczynski’s outfit has thought of most contingencies. There is a tiebreaker procedure with three parts. Teams are still eligible for the Jamboree and respective county tournaments, because these NJIC games all fit into the regular-season model.

It’s another way the NJIC has sought to improve and strengthen its brand. There are plenty of schools who would love to join the league (cough, cough, Dumont) but I wonder if there will be any resulting friction between the NJIC and the Big North Conference.

The two groups have a friendly working relationship, although some feel the NJIC football alignment lets teams gain more power points at the end of the season because of the flexibility at the end of the season. On the football field, playoff games between Big North and NJIC teams have been one-sided, with the Big North schools winning almost all.

Overtures were made to the NJIC about joining the North Jersey Super Football Conference a year ago, but after looking at it, the NJIC opted to stay out. Secaucus athletic director Charlie Voorhees also had his name as part of the “Coalition” plan for a new football structure for all of New Jersey, which is a direct rival of the North Jersey Super Football Conference’s proposed eight-group, two section formula. Although, to be fair, the NJIC leadership has not advocated for either proposal.

What’s next for the NJIC? Well, the next sport that might see a conference championship event for boys and girls soccer. Baseball and softball are possibilities too, but there are complicating factors with those sports, pitch count limits in baseball and the weather, to name two.

As far as New Jersey just handing out another trophy, Stone doesn’t want to hear it. He thinks we have to get away from the concept of a small conference that only crowns a champion based on regular-season results. The NJIC is a Super Conference, with four balanced divisions. Teams can be division champs and now, conference champs.

“People say, ‘Why do you need another championship?’ My answer to them is ‘Why not?’” said Stone. “The state of New Jersey is so ingrained with football that so many people win a state championship, it’s kind of like that with our league, let’s take these division winners and see who is the best overall. What we’re doing is playing the best of the best in the conference, which is what competition and sports is about.”


  • By Darren Cooper – Record Sports