NJSIAA Nixing Tournament of Champions is Soft

After this upcoming spring, one of the best traditions in high school lacrosse will cease to exist.

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Executive Committee voted on a proposal to eliminate the Tournament of Champions (TOC), which is currently held in lacrosse, as well as basketball, tennis, girls volleyball, field hockey, bowling and softball. The TOC allows for some sports to host a further tournament where group champions (public and private) are seeded into one single bracket and then fight to be the sole state champion in that given sport.

On Wednesday, the motion passed 33-4 with two two abstentions, per NJ.com.

The official reason for eliminating the TOC that the NJSIAA gave was, “the lack of competition, the repetitiveness of the teams finding success and the fact that some sports have a reduced regular season in order to make room for a T of C as reasons for axing it.”

“lack of competition” and “repetitiveness of the teams finding success” can easily be translated into “The same teams keep winning and it’s not fair.” Which is the absolute softest sentiment ever and should never be echoed by any one person or entity claiming to have any affiliation with athletics at any level.

Tired of seeing the same teams win all the time? Well then why don’t the teams who don’t make the TOC all that often or win it step up their game? It’s much easier said than done and may be hard to hear for some, but it’s true. And if it really is the same teams winning all the time, how is that going to change by simply eliminating the TOC? Wouldn’t the teams still dominate whether the TOC is in place or not? I think we all know the answer is a profound yes.

Some real logic went into this decision, huh?

While yes, only three teams have won the past five TOC tournaments, that’s kind of the point. They were the best team in New Jersey that season and earned the title just as every champion since the tournament’s inception has. It’s literally why we play the games, to find out who is the best. And in the case of the TOC, it’s finding out who is the best of the best.

In 2021, Don Bosco won it for the first time ever to cap off their perfect 18-0 season. It was also only their second ever trip to the finals. Mountain Lakes won it in 2019 while Delbarton won three straight from 2016-2018.

I am from Kentucky, and in the Bluegrass State we have the greatest high school basketball tournament in the country. Not because the best players or teams in high school basketball are playing in it, but because there is only one champion as all 16 regional champions get together for the “Sweet 16.” It has always been that way and always will. And while only three teams from outside the “Golden Triangle” (Louisville, Lexington, Covington) have won the whole thing over the past decade, teams still get excited about getting to the Sweet 16 and feel blessed that they get to take on that challenge.

While there are certainly differences between Kentucky high school basketball and New Jersey high school lacrosse, that drive to want to compete and want to be the best is inside every athlete, no matter how big or how small. Competition is everything and by taking away the TOC, the NJISAA is taking away a chance for those athletes to compete and prove their worth on what is likely the biggest stage some of those athletes will ever play on. If you don’t win then you aren’t the best. If you do, you are. It’s pretty simple and to suggest that something is unfair when some teams win more than others is not only disingenuous but sends a very bad message of softness.

No matter who you are lined up against, you play the game with all your heart and all your mind and you do so with the intention of winning. At least, that’s how I’ve always understood sports to work. But maybe in this participation trophy era we live in that is a dying thought process.

This move has drawn much criticism across the lacrosse world, especially those with New Jersey roots or ties, and rightfully so.

PLL pro, Faceoff Academy and Pro Athletics co-founder, and former RIT star Jerry Ragonese, who is a Governor Livingston High School (N.J.) alum, has especially been outspoken on the topic and has even suggested the idea of a new, independent tournament taking the place of the TOC.

Former Brown star and current Redwoods LC player Larken Kemp, who has not ties to the state of New Jersey but is always an outspoken voice against such egregious decisions from the ruling elite in athletics, has also voiced his opinion on the topic while adding some humor and historical notes.

Current Rutgers defenseman Bobby Russo, who played his high school lacrosse at Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.), and multiple others have also chimed in on the move.

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