Cape-Atlantic League football lives on

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By a resounding 51-14 vote, the West Jersey Football League decided not to admit Cape-Atlantic League teams to its 65-team alignment. Had the vote gone the other way, the 2013 football season would have been the CAL’s last, and teams from this area would have played who they were told to play.

The spokesperson for the West Jersey Football League (WJFL) indicated that most of the opposition to merging with the CAL concerned travel time. If that is accurate it doesn’t seem likely that things will change much in the future. After all, the schools aren’t going to move their fields.

But a big part of the vote was concern about playing against St. Joseph and Holy Spirit, in particular. Because the WJFL rules only allow a team to move up one enrollment group, which means both St. Joe and Spirit would be playing almost exclusively against Group 1 and Group 2 teams. Those teams don’t like that and neither would St. Joseph or Holy Spirit.

Aside from the tradition, the rejection allows CAL schools to control their own schedules. It means that there will be CAL football in 2014 and after.

But there is a problem. And its name is Hammonton.

The Blue Devils – one of the original CAL schools when the league was formed in 1949, along with Cape May, Egg Harbor City, Middle Township, Ocean City and Wildwood – have announced that they will be leaving the league in all sports for the Tri-County Conference starting with the 2014-15 school year. Hammonton claims the move is to allow its student-athletes to miss less class time before leaving for afternoon games. But there are probably a few other significant reasons, including some concerning football.

When Hammonton joins the Tri-County, its football team will automatically be included in the WJFL, as all Tri-County teams are. That will give West Jersey 66 teams which will be aligned into 11 equal divisions.

And when Hammonton leaves the CAL, there will be 17 football teams left. And 17 is an odd number, creating a scheduling problem.

With two, nine-team conferences the CAL schedule just falls into place. Each team plays eight conference games and one crossover. But when one conference is reduced to eight teams, there is a small problem. And there seems to be two possible solutions.

The eight teams in that conference could each look for a non-league game. They would need to go to North Jersey, Pennsylvania or Delaware to find a team because all of the South Jersey teams are locked into full schedules in either the WJFL or Colonial Conference.

Or, the eight teams in that conference could each play one of the other seven twice. It isn’t traditionally done in high school football but the NFL does it.

One other idea could be to hurry up and start a football program at Atlantic Tech.

It would have been easier to get games if the West Jersey Football League had said yes. But they would not have been Cape-Atlantic League games. This football league that has lasted since Harry Truman was President would have disappeared.

In 2013, CAL football will be aligned the same as in 2012. Only the venues of the games will be reversed. Instead of jumping again to another alignment idea, let’s hope starting in 2014 the CAL decides to stay with the program they used for 2012 – aligning the conferences based on a two-year NJSIAA power rating total.

It worked pretty well last season and it is simple to understand. And, most important of all, it keeps Cape-Atlantic League football alive.

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