The N.C. High School Athletic Association board of directors recently voted to divide its member schools into classifications a different way for the 2017-18 alignment. A by-product of the new plan may be breaking up the geographically tight conferences that Wake County 4A schools have enjoyed in recent years.
The NCHSAA has divided its schools into four classifications by enrollment with an almost equal number of schools in each class in recent years.
The next alignment will pull out the non-football playing schools and then put 20 percent of the remaining schools each in the largest and smallest classes, 4A and 1A, and 30 percent each in the 2A and 3A. The non-football playing schools will then be added back in into their appropriate class.
The NCHSAA surveyed the schools asking their preference on three different realignment scenarios: the current system, the current system with the modification of pulling out the non-football playing schools for the initial division and then adding them back, or the 20-30-30-20 plan.
The schools were asked to rank the plans one, two or three. In all, 321 schools responded.
The current plan got 48.9 percent of the first-place votes, 26.2 percent of the No. 2 votes and 24 percent No. 3 votes. The 20-30-30-20 plan had 32.4 percent of the No. 1 votes, 21.2 percent of the No. 2 and 46.4 percent of the No. 3.
With such a strong negative vote, why do you think the board went with the 20-30-30-20 plan?
Stevens: I think the board thought something had to be done with the erosion of 1A football. A majority of the schools now entering the NCHSAA are small charter schools that don’t play football. There was also a concern that the gap in enrollment in 4A was growing. Some 4A schools were half the size of the biggest 4As. There was a lot of discussion about what is best for everyone, not just one classification.
J. Mike Blake, The Cary News: Area athletics directors were told as recently as April 1 that the they would be staying at four equal classes. I don’t think we can state “these are YOUR rules” to membership schools anymore, if the membership schools are asked for input only to be ignored later. I don’t think the proposal is a bad one. I just think it’s bad form to blindside those that were paying attention. If 1A doesn’t have enough football programs for two 32-team brackets, don’t have 64 playoff teams!
Aaron Moody, Eastern Wake News: Getting a new grip on school sizes must have been that important to the board. I was under the assumption the board looked at what made the most sense statewide, not just what may significantly tear up one classification but what would be the least worse (we seem to hear that a lot these days) decision. I’m not opposed the decision but I agree it was a rash one, especially if they polled schools and didn’t react in line with their input.
D. Clay Best, Smithfield Herald: The width of the 4A ranks was becoming too much. Small 4A schools, especially in football, were almost playing a classification up when it came trying to get into the playoffs.
How will the new alignment affect schools in your area?
Blake: The tight-knit Southwest Wake Athletic Conference would ideally like to stand pat and become a 10-team league in a few years with openings of Apex Friendship (2015) and Green Level (2018), but that may be out of the question.
Riverside, Jordan and Hillside would need some partners to reach the minimum of six teams in a conference, so teams east of U.S. 1 – Cary, Green Hope, Panther Creek, Apex and Apex Friendship – may have to join those PAC-6 schools. The SWAC teams to the west of U.S. 1 – Athens Drive, Middle Creek, Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs – may join the Greater Neuse, which stands to lose almost half of its teams. Those schools would be joined by Garner, South Garner (opens in 2018) and possibly Southeast Raleigh, Knightdale, Enloe, Corinth Holders or Rolesville.
It also drops Cardinal Gibbons back to 3A, which will draw the ire of the 110-plus 3A teams and ignite more debate about parochials’ place in the NCHSAA.
Moody: Unless East Wake’s enrollment jumps it looks like the school will drop to 3A, possibly with Cardinal Gibbons, Rolesville (which took Zebulon students from East Wake) and Franklinton. Others on the blueprint for that untitled conference – Oxford Webb and Roxboro Person – would mean lengthy rides to and from games for the Warriors.
Knightdale could end up there, too, if its numbers don’t merit 4A status.
Elliott Warnock, The Chapel Hill News: If I’m reading the numbers correctly, this would make it much clearer that East Chapel Hill would go from 4A to 3A. It’s already smaller than several 3A schools, and increasing the membership of the 2A and 3A would probably bump East into the group automatically set for 3A. The same could be true for even more PAC-6 schools. Person and Northern, for example, were at the lower end of the 4A population scale.
Best: It looks like we will end up with a more Johnston County-centered 3A conference with more old (Clayton-Smithfield-Selma) and new (West Johnston-South Johnston) rivals together. That will make the playoff races even more interesting.
Corinth Holders will be the most puzzling case in Johnston County. The Pirates are going to be a 4A school. Past history throws them into the Greater Neuse River ranks, but if you start looking at maps you realize Corinth Holders in a league with Wake Forest, Heritage and Wakefield almost looks more geographically smart than Corinth Holders in a league with Garner and Enloe.
I’m not convinced Broughton shifts out of the Cap Eight, just because of its history in that league. In fact, I’d see somebody who would logically belong in I-440 grouping as opposed to the I-540 grouping shifted to keep the Caps in place.
North Johnston is a school that gets the rough end of the 20-30-30-20 split. The Panthers go from being a possible 1A school back in the solid 2A ranks.
How is all this going to work out?
Stevens: Fine. This is not the first time the NCHSAA has implemented changes without the majority of its schools’ support. A majority of the NCHSAA schools who voted wanted to oust the non-boarding parochial schools a few years ago. There was not a lot of support for girls athletics in the 1960s. Probably a majority of the schools didn’t want to move championships off campus.
Warnock: It may take a while for athletics directors to figure out the cost/benefit analysis, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see some NCISAA members contemplate membership in the NCHSAA if they could play at the 1A or 2A level, and without fielding a football team. Many of the private, non-boarding schools in Orange and Durham counties play regular schedules that make them play conference games as far away as Greensboro or Winston-Salem. Joining the NCHSAA, with less travel costs, could save considerable sums for these financially challenged programs.
Blake: Now that a precedent for uneven classes has been set, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first step towards establishing a hard enrollment standard for each class. For instance, if your ADM over a two-year period is 1,600 or more, you’re 4A. If it’s 1,110 or more, you’re 3A. Anything between 720-1,009 is 2A with everybody else becoming 1A. I think most schools would sign on for something like that because it might make realignment faster and with fewer changes to leagues. It would certainly help the 1A football problem Tim brought up.
I argue that these changes are going to be negligible if not net-negatives for each classification. It will now be harder for 4A to make conferences, 1A is unchanged and now 3A and 2A have more teams and conferences competing for state titles than ever (which is why we’ll need seeded playoffs in wrestling and tennis – there would be too many automatic bids if you kept the old way). I do think it’s a good thing for classes to have less of an enrollment gap – schools like Lee County and Harnett Central deserve to be in 3A – but the same could’ve been accomplished by setting classification limits and/or going to five classes.
Moody: Not the first time, not the last time. It may mean longer trips for Triangle area teams that have really been spoiled by tight-knit geographic layout in recent years. In other areas, the widespread conference map is a common thing. Again, the idea is not every conference has been as fortunate. This is an attempt to do the best for everyone.
Best: I could see this being the last stop before a switch to five classifications. If the response from schools is positive, this is the way things will stay. If the membership is up in arms after three years, hello five classifications. I like that the NCHSAA has stayed true to its four classification model for so long while other states have gone up to six classifications.
NCHSAA survey on proposed realignment
Four class modified
321 total responses