What are the ripple effects of a high school canceling football?

The East Chapel Hill fans react during the JV football game between the East Chapel Hill Wildcats and the Carrboro Jaguars, which was played in Carrboro on Thursday, August 24, 2017.
The East Chapel Hill fans react during the JV football game between the East Chapel Hill Wildcats and the Carrboro Jaguars, which was played in Carrboro on Thursday, August 24, 2017.

Chapel Hill High School announced Monday night it would not be fielding a varsity football team for the 2018 season, making them the second Triangle school to cancel its program this summer.

Due to a lack of numbers, the school decided to pull the plug just four days before high school football is set to start across North Carolina. Cedar Ridge High School canceled its football program in June because of expected low numbers from rising juniors and seniors.

Both teams play in the Big 8 3A conference which also includes Hillside, Southern Durham, Northern Durham, Northwood, Orange and East Chapel Hill, who did not field a varsity football last season but has one this year.

When a team cancels football, often the cash cow of an athletic department on all levels, the wave of the decision not only affects the football program at that particular school, but it can have a domino effect throughout the entire conference and other teams on the schedule.

“First of all, let me say that it’s always a very unfortunate situation when a school makes a decision that it’s going to drop a program,” NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said. “It’s disappointing for the entire community and it’s particularly disappointing for seniors who have invested a lot of time and energy over the years and looking forward to their senior years and it is suddenly no longer available to them. It does have a effect. It does play a role in every team on their schedule.”

Chapel Hill, for example, was scheduled to play Durham Riverside this Friday in the season opener. Looking ahead, without Cedar Ridge and now Chapel Hill, Big 8 conference coaches are scrambling to find a conference game to fill that void, which could have a lasting effect on playoff standings.

“All teams have the opportunity to go to the playoffs and seeding is an issue when it comes to the final numbers from the teams as far as wins and losses,” Southern Durham head coach Darius Robinson said. “All those things affect the outcome by having a team drop out.”

As far as playoff seeding goes, the Big 8 conference will still get two automatic bids. Rankings, though, might be affected because the teams used to replace Chapel Hill and Cedar Ridge on various schedules, could boost or lower a teams rankings. If, for example, Southern or Hillside, replace Chapel Hill with a team with a better record, obviously, their rankings would be better than if they defeat Chapel Hill or Cedar Ridge teams with losing records.

Robinson has been fortunate at Southern Durham, averaging close to 90 players in his program (JV and varsity combined) and expects more players to come out once school starts.

According to varsity rosters posted on MaxPreps, Chapel Hill has averaged 36 players on the varsity roster the last six football seasons. For a 3A school, playing traditional powers like Hillside and Southern Durham, is not ideal when your players are playing both sides of the ball. Hillside head coach Ray Harrison said he has 113 players in his program this fall, and understands Chapel Hill’s decision.

“It’s all about player safety, we don’t want to put kids in a bad situation,” Harrison said. “Low numbers, you’re playing kids both sides of the ball and that’s not feasible in football.”

At this point in the season, however, Southern Durham and Hillside are having to adjust their schedule, now being out not one, but two league games. Since Cedar Ridge canceled over the summer, it gave time to recoup and try to find a replacement game for the teams in the league. Scheduling football games, especially non-conference ones are tricky, and sometimes done two years in advance. And even though Riverside can’t reschedule its season-opener in four days, the Big 8 schools find themselves in an even bigger problem looking ahead.

“It hurts us in regards to timing,” Harrison said. “Football is not like basketball or baseball when you can play multiple games in one week. Trying to find it on the calendar where it suits other teams, that’s the rough part, but I definitely understand their decision and Cedar Ridge’s decision.”

Moving forward, Tucker talked about a possible cutoff for teams to announce their intentions to drop a sport, that way teams won’t have to scramble at the last minute to replace games.

“We could have a deadline,” Tucker said. “And you could say if you don’t make this decision by said deadline it means not only do you not have that program, we have the authority to step in and count these all as forfeits. Rarely has the board have to make that kind of recommendation.”

That’s something that would have to be presented and passed at one of the NCHSAA Board Meetings in Chapel Hill.

Robinson got lucky and was able to find a team that was originally on the Cedar Ridge schedule and was also looking for a game. However, teams like Hillside and Southern can’t make up for what they will lose at the gate for missing a game. Southern, for example, had Chapel Hill scheduled for Senior Night in November. The Spartans average around $12,600 on ticket sales for home games, not including concessions.

“Any game it could be a substantial amount of money for the school from just having that event,” Robinson said.

When it became official, Chapel Hill head coach Issac Marsch reached out to the other coaches in the Big 8 to let them know what was happening. He even apologized, which wasn’t needed, according to Harrison.

“I didn’t take it as nothing, really. He was just doing his due diligence as a coach,” Harrison said.

Robinson added, “The coaching fraternity, we have a great relationship, it’s a brotherhood. As a coach he wanted to call and let us know from him exactly what the deal was and that he tried as hard as he could to make it work. He vowed to me that he would do everything he could to get his program back to where it used to be. We talked about some other things, but his biggest thing was he was going to work hard to make sure the program got back to a varsity level.”