Though we won’t see the full effect of the new N.C. High School Athletic Association realignment plan for at least another year, you can safely assume it will bring great change to Triangle-area conferences.
The Southwest Wake Athletic Conference stands to change a lot.
How it works
The NCHSAA has done realignment the same way for years, lining up its membership largest to smallest and dividing it by four to get equal classifications. There is no hard cutoff number that makes a team 4A or 3A, it’s all about where you stand compared to other members and what 25 percent you fall into.
Teams stay in those conferences and classifications for four years. Year Three of the period begins the planning process for the next period.
Though the 2016-17 year is the last of this current alignment, 2015-16 is when the planning process for a different way of aligning teams called the 20-30-30-20 plan – the largest 20 percent of schools will be 4A, the smallest 20 will be 1A and the middle 60 percent are divided into 3A and 2A. It will go into effect for the 2017-21 seasons.
Any change causes a ripple effect felt by other schools.
The SWAC is in the middle of two 4A conferences who stand to lose half of their members in the 20-30-30-20 plan and will need more teams to have the NCHSAA minimum of six per league.
To the west is the PAC-6, which has three good-sized 4A schools and three small ones – Person County, Northern Durham and East Chapel Hill – which will drop to 3A.
The the east is the Greater Neuse River Conference, which has two large schools, Garner and Rolesville, two that will teeter close to the 4A/3A cutoff in Southeast Raleigh and Knightdale and four schools – Harnett Central, East Wake, Clayton and West Johnston – that should be 3A without a significant change in their district.
Would anyone be surprised if the SWAC gets split along U.S. Highway 1 to fill the need in each league?
In the old format, the SWAC probably could have stayed pat and grown to 10 teams with Apex Friendship and Green Level (opening in 2018) joining.
That appears to be off the table, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Being in a conference with teams from another county isn’t unheard of. When the SWAC was the Tri-9, Lee County was a member. The Tri-7 had a revolving door with Western Harnett, South Johnston and Triton.
In Holly Springs’ first few years, it was in the Greater Neuse with teams from Johnston and Harnett County.
I think the schools will do just well so long as the final NCHSAA proposal inadvertently does two things.
First, the best rivalries – Panther Creek-Green Hope, Apex-Cary and the trio of Middle Creek, Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs – are kept in the same conference. Other series of interest, like Middle Creek-Panther Creek football or Holly Springs-Cary wrestling, can be scheduled for nonconference games.
Second, no team is left on an island to start rivalries from scratch. That’s why Green Hope and Panther Creek pushed hard against realignment four years ago (the two were heading for the PAC-6 until East Chapel Hill reported an error in its numbers that kept it 4A, thus negating the reason to pull the two Cary schools into the conference). Athens Drive, a conference nomad for decades before joining the Tri-8 in 2005, has finally started to develop some rivalries here.
It’s possible that the SWAC could continue to exist in some way after these next two athletics seasons.
But if not, then let’s enjoy the last two years of a league with the familiarity that comes with being about 20 miles across in any direction. Let’s enjoy the prestige that comes with every school winning at least one state title or finishing runner-up since 2008.
It was always the schools that made the conference great, not the other way around.