After juggling a number of options on how to tweak the playoff format for the next athletic year, the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s board of directors voted Wednesday to cut the number of playoff teams in 4A and 1A, go back to predetermined brackets in some sports and use MaxPreps rankings to help determine who makes the playoffs.
The moves coincide with a new realignment period in which there will be 76 teams in 4A, 112 in 3A and 2A and a little more than 100 in 1A.
The number of 4A and 1A playoff teams in baseball, softball, soccer, basketball and football will drop from 64 to 48. The 3A and 2A classes will stay at 64.
In those sports, MaxPreps rankings – which are computer-formulated – will be used to seed and determine which teams make the playoffs. Win-loss percentage will no longer factor into who makes the playoffs or who is seeded where, nor will the bracket have East and Mideast seeds.
(Update: how many automatic bids each conference will get has changed.)
This is a one-year trial, so the board will know by December how it affected the football, boys soccer and volleyball playoffs.
“When we used MaxPreps rankings to break ties this year, we had no complaints,” NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said. “That says to me that on some level, (coaches) accept there is a subjective process and even though we don’t know what it is, we just know that it wasn’t the folks in Chapel Hill that put it in place, and therefore we can go with that.”
MaxPreps owns its formula and does not release its particulars. It factors in strength of schedule and quality wins and caps margin of victory so as not to encourage running up the score. From its website, it says “a team’s ranking is hurt more by losing to a team that is ranked below them verses (sic) a team ranked ahead.”
(Note: In 2014, if MaxPreps had been used to create the 4A girls soccer brackets, a 3-13 Apex team would have gotten the final 4A spot ahead of 13-5 Overhills due largely to a gap in strength of schedule).
The lacrosse, tennis and wrestling playoffs will return to predetermined brackets, where bids are solely determined by conference finish. Travel was the biggest factor – this year’s wrestling and tennis brackets brought teams from Stanly County, just 45 minutes east of Charlotte, into the East bracket.
There was discussion about reducing 4A and 1A playoff teams to 40 and 3A and 2A to 48 before deciding to go with 48 and 64, respectively. That will give some 4A and 1A teams a first-round bye.
Board of directors president Rodney Shotwell, the superintendent of Rockingham County Schools, said that missing a home gate might not have as much of an impact as originally thought.
NCHSAA playoff game gates are split three ways between the home team, visiting team and NCHSAA.
“Sometimes when you’re the top seed and folks are coming to play you in the first round, you don’t get a whole lot of (traveling fans) on that,” Shotwell said. “What we’re hoping for is, by having that first-round bye, you’ve already got a team that won a first-round game, so they’re going to bring a little better crowd that ultimately will make up for that. If it wasn’t for the home crowd, it would be hard to break even on those first-round games. I don’t think the team that gets the first-round bye will necessarily be upset.”