Garner Cleveland: Sports

NCHSAA high school soccer, basketball playoffs change to football format

Fewer automatic bids and more travel are in store for this year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs in boys’ and girls’ soccer and basketball.

All four sports will use the same formula for postseason selection as football, meaning that most conferences have three automatic bids. Split conferences, which have schools from more than one NCHSAA classification, will receive four automatic berths – two per classification.

The rest of the 64 teams in each classification will be determined by overall winning percentage. Fourth and fifth-place conference finishers often received automatic bids last year.

The 4A, 3A and 2A playoff teams will be divided into East and West divisions while the 1A will be divided intoEast, Mideast, Midwest, West divisions to help alleviate travel.

The N.C. Basketball Coaches Association asked the NCHSAA to consider a playoff change after there were 50 first-round conference rematches in boys and 47 conference rematches in girls during the last two years.

Mitigating travel worries

There is a possibility for more travel with the new format. A team from Greensboro and a team from the coast could be paired together, for example.

But the NCHSAA’s new payment system means the NCHSAA helps pay more of playoff expenses and the format will only have an effect on three games on school nights in soccer and two nights in basketball.

The rest of the rounds are either are Fridays, Saturdays or at a neutral site.

Triangle soccer benefits

Soccer coaches in the Triangle have pushed for a seeded playoff format, saying it was more fair to the top teams in the area.

Jordan or Green Hope have represented the East in the last four 4A state championships but usually meet before the semifinals.

In girls’ soccer last spring, a 21-1-1 Millbrook team and undefeated Green Hope were nationally ranked when they met in the third round. Green Hope’s next two opponents had a combined six losses.

“Look at Green Hope and Sanderson – I think last year those were the two best (boys’) teams in the state, at least the two best in this half of the state, and it was a shame they met in the third round,” said Heritage soccer coach Scott Sloan. “At least you won’t see as many quality matchups until the later rounds. At least that’s what I hope it creates.”

In 2011, almost half of the 4A teams ranked in the state’s top 15 played one another in the second round.

“From a Triangle perspective ... I think it’s a welcome situation where you can start to build once the state playoffs begin,” Sloan said. “You’re not knocking at the door of one of the state’s highest teams.”

Basketball finds its fit

Tucker said the NCBCA asked to shift to football’s system.

First-round conference rematches are a faint possibility, which pleases Panther Creek boys’ basketball coach and athletics director L.J. Hepp. He has a concern that by placing the emphasis on the overall record rather than the conference record that coaches may cut down on quality non-conference games.

The wild card teams will be seeded by a 22-game standard, which will allow most teams to drop two non-conference games if they play a maximum 24-game regular-season schedule. Conference tournament wins and losses will not count toward the seeding record in either basketball or soccer.