Immaculate Conception High School in Lodi, NJ (IC) was denied the opportunity to play in the NJSIAA’s 2016 State Tournament because 70% of their games had not been played against in-state opponents by February 6, 2016. By that date IC had played 11 teams from New Jersey and 6 teams from out-of-state. This translated to only 64.7%. Immaculate Conception would have seeded third in the state tournament if they had been allowed to participate.
Everyone asks: How did this happen? How could this happen?
Simple, but to understand it the history of Immaculate Conception Girls’ Basketball needs to be explained:
The season of 2012-2013 was the last time Immaculate Conception competed in a league. That means that all of their league opponents were from New Jersey. They were allotted only a few independent games and with those games they could choose to play anyone they wanted (assuming the opponent agrees to play). During that season if they had chosen all out of state opponents for their independent games they would still have been over 70% by the state cut-off.
Immaculate Conception had to leave this league because competing in it did not create a healthy competitive atmosphere. In order to honor the emotional and physical well-being for all it was best that Immaculate Conception become independent or join a new league. However, schools are not able to just leave and join leagues whenever they want. The teams in the league have to vote to let them out. Immaculate Conception was granted permission to leave half the league for the following year and the full league for the year after. Joining another league involves waiting to be accepted and requires all of their school’s teams to join the new league. However, their other sports are still committed to the league that their basketball team (and softball team) left.
That means that in 2013-2014 Immaculate Conception was given 8 league games and they were responsible for scheduling the remainder of the games. They competed in the Mt. St. Dominic Holiday Tournament at the end of December. There they were able to play against three teams from NJ: Bloomfield Tech, Piscataway, and Rumson-Fair Haven. They entered the New Jersey Sparks’ A New Year’s Resolution Tournament where they were scheduled to play against Chapelgate Christian Academy (an out-of-state team). In mid-January the BCWCA’s Bergen County Tournament began and they played more opponents from NJ. As a result, they more than qualified for the state’s 70% rule.
For the 2014-2015 season Immaculate Conception became the only fully independent girls’ basketball team in New Jersey. This meant they were not given any league games. To begin the season they played against Northern Highlands in the Autism Awareness tournament run by River Dell High School. The played in the Mt. St. Dominic tournament where they were given two in-state opponents (St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven) and one out-of-state (Murray Bergtram). They entered the New Jersey Sparks’ A New Year’s Resolution Tournament and were given SPIRE Institute and Nazareth High School (both out-of-state teams) to play. They were again in the Bergen County Tournament which provided them a few in-state opponents prior to the cut-off. They also had a couple of New Jersey opponents scheduled for their independent games which put them at 76% games against in-state opponents.
For the 2015-2016 season Immaculate Conception was fully independent again, but there were some huge differences between this season and last season. First, the Autism Awareness Tournament normally hosted by River Dell was canceled. When this happened Immaculate Conception lost the opportunity to play against one in-state team. Second, Immaculate Conception was not permitted to return to the Mt. St. Dominic Tournament and most other tournaments had a waiting list. Marist High School in Bayonne, NJ agreed to accept Immaculate Conception into their tournament. However, after seeing the teams registered, Marist decided to make their tournament a Staten Island vs. New Jersey tournament and only permitted the teams from New Jersey to play against the Staten Island teams. This meant that Immaculate Conception lost the opportunity to play against three more in-state teams. Before January they had played four out-of-state teams.
When teams enter tournaments they can make playing requests, but the requests need to be attainable. If a team requests to play an in-state opponent at a tournament and an in-state opponent does not exist or does not accept the request there is no way to play an in-state team. Additionally, the purpose of tournament play is to challenge the team by playing against stronger teams. This usually means playing a team from out-of-state with a good reputation. Sometimes college scouts attend these games, especially at a tournament such as the New Jersey Sparks’ A New Year’s Resolution. There are definitely colleges who attend who want to see local teams compete because they mainly recruit in-state players. However, many of the colleges attending are looking for opportunities to see players they would not ordinarily get to see. They look for chances to see top players from New Jersey play against top players from out-of-state.
Regardless, Immaculate Conception would have still made the 70% rule had the following not happened: First, Immaculate Conception seeded first for the BCWCA’s Bergen County Tournament and received a bye the first round. Only 27 teams entered the tournament instead of 32 because quite a few high school teams wanted to participate in the NJIC Tournament instead. Next, the second round of counties, which was originally scheduled for Saturday, January 30th, was changed to be played on both Saturday January 30th and Sunday January 31st. Immaculate Conception requested to play their county game on Saturday because they already had a game scheduled for Sunday. However, the Bergen County Tournament could not meet this request and Immaculate Conception had to cancel that independent game. These two situations meant that the opportunity to play against two more New Jersey opponents had been eliminated from their schedule. As a result, Immaculate Conception found out they did not meet the 70% rule less than one week before the cut-off date.
It would be simple to say Immaculate Conception could have avoided breaking this rule by not playing any out-of-team state teams before the cut-off, but that would have meant that IC would have been short many games this season. Most of their New Jersey opponents could not play until after the cut-off date. Not playing any teams from out-of-state would have also meant that IC would have only played two games in December: against the Academy of the Holy Angels and Bound Brook High School. It would have meant that as of February 6 they would have only played 11 total games. Lastly, there was also no way that Immaculate Conception could predict the future and know that they would be short two games as a result of the Bergen County Tournament.
An all-independent schedule also meant that Immaculate Conception had only four home games this whole season (December 22, January 3, January 7, February 25). They went out of their way to try and play New Jersey opponents, but local opponents either did not want to play or could not accommodate them into their schedule. The New Jersey opponents who agreed to play them were a considerable distance away. This meant traveling far on school nights. For example, traveling to High Point High School meant a 1.5-2 hour bus ride to and from the school. A good portion of the ride consisted of small, winding back roads that took a long time to navigate behind other small-moving cars in the dark. Following that game was a trip to Life Center Academy all the way in Florence, NJ. Other games included Blair Academy (Blairstown, NJ), Mendham High School, Union Catholic (Scotch Plains, NJ), and West Morris Central (Chester, NJ). Immaculate Conception was able to schedule an independent game through a tournament in New York City in the Bronx and they were assigned the opponent National Christian Academy (Maryland). This drive to New York City from Bergen County was much shorter in comparison to their other games. However, the tournament scheduled this game for 8:30pm on a Sunday night. The game before it went into overtime and IC did not start playing until 9:30pm. This meant another late night for the team.
Playing away games, almost exclusively, means Immaculate Conception never has a home court advantage. The distance of travel means they lose the opportunity to play in front of their friends and family on many occasions. Most of the parents of players on the team could not make games because they had to work and it was too far a commute to get there in time. Usually the most fans IC ever had at a regular season game were 4-8 people while the other team had packed in the opposite side. Yet, it was a sacrifice the team was willing to make to adhere to the 70% rule and to play in a competitive atmosphere.
Some people feel consequences are always deserved to those who break rules. Other people feel consequences are only deserved to those who break rules deliberately, assuming the rules are fair. In the case of Immaculate Conception the rule was not broken deliberately and the rule is unfair. They created a schedule that would adhere to the 70% rule, but the rescheduling of tournaments changed IC’s intended schedule.
The rule is unfair because IC has to make their own game schedule and they cannot control the decisions of opposing teams. They cannot make someone play them if they do not want to play. They cannot change tournament directors’ minds about game days or opponents. If this is truly how the 70% rule works then what would stop any team from postponing or canceling a game against an independent team if it means the independent team would then be at risk of not qualifying for the state tournament? It is also unfair because there is no protocol lined out in the NJSIAA Handbook stating what teams need to do if they cannot meet the 70% rule. The rule is outdated and has no bearing on the record of the teams because state tournament seeding is based on Power Points.
If Immaculate Conception truly deserves a consequence for not meeting the 70% rule, simply because they broke a rule, there must be another consequence they can be given. It is wrong to deny their players the opportunity to participate in the state tournament.