Top-seeded Cary High is in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association boys basketball playoffs but doesn’t know where it will play as of Sunday night.
Last spring, the NCHSAA’s board of directors voted to change the fourth round of the basketball playoffs from being played at a neutral site as part of a weeklong regional to the higher seed, with one caveat.
The NCHSAA press release stated: “If there is an expressed concern relative to seating capacity, the NCHSAA will assist in determining if the fourth round game must be moved to a neutral high school gym.”
And so Cary – which would prefer to host New Hanover in its own gym – waits to see what will happen.
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“I would not want to play outside of the Imp Dome,” Cary boys basketball coach Allan Gustafson Jr. said. “If we’re the No. 1 seed, it’s a fourth-round game, we’ve earned the right to play in our gym.”
An announcement is expected Monday morning on which teams are playing where.
In previous decades, the NCHSAA’s fourth round was held as part of a weeklong regional tournament at a neutral court, sometimes in Greenville on the campus of East Carolina and J.H. Rose High and most recently at Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum and Crown Arena.
But the regional format proved inflexible if the state tournament was delayed due to snow and some complained about the travel. Two Wake County teams shouldn’t have to drive to Fayetteville to play one another, they argued.
Proponents argued that it created a more memorable experience for the teams involved, and the regionals avoided locking out diehard fans or players’ family members from seeing the most important game of the year.
Unlike other NCHSAA sports, in basketball, the facilities are no match for the interest as the playoffs move along. Third-round games are played in front of standing-room-only gyms.
“I would like to see tournaments Thursday, Friday, Saturday and just play everybody in the same place,” said Voyager Academy boys basketball coach Mike Huff, whose Vikings play at East Carteret Tuesday. “I think it’s nice to get to go to a nice arena and play on a neutral court and have other things going on. That really feels like a tournament, versus going to someone else’s gym. But nobody really asks me.”
The NCHSAA now has only the East and West finals – to be played Saturday in Fayetteville, Greensboro and Winston-Salem – at a neutral court.
Finding a gym
The new NCHSAA rule puts the onus of finding a neutral court on the schools. In the west, two Cabarrus County schools are playing each other at the 3,000-seat Cabarrus Arena.
It hasn’t been as easy for Wake schools to find a similar solution.
In an email last week, the NCHSAA wanted schools that could fit 2,000 patrons. Few gyms in the Triangle can handle that many. Cavernous Broughton and Lee County fit the bill, but Lee is a 45-minute drive at least for the schools involved (Millbrook at Garner is the other 4A boys basketball contest).
Broughton has been hosting events nonstop since September as the temporary home of N.C. State volleyball and women’s basketball. Hosting another, with no reimbursement written in the NCHSAA rule, is unlikely.
“You can’t put that on them, they’ve been hosting Cap-8 (tournament), N.C. State, all that,” Millbrook athletics director and boys basketball coach Scott McInnes said.
There is also no incentive for Garner or Cary to move their games, but every incentive for New Hanover and Millbrook to ask for the NCHSAA to step in.
Some coaches suggest that rather than leaving the coordinating up to the schools, the NCHSAA should shift to either allowing those top seeds to host, no questions asked, or designating neutral courts ahead of time and assigning games to them.
But for this season, coaches will find out Monday where they’re going.
“A lot of people don’t want to host in the last minute,” McInnes said. “It’s disappointing.”