The News & Observer’s high school sports panel of five community sports editors, headed up by J. Mike Blake, will be taking on different questions each week.
In this week’s writers’ roundtable, the group members look at what passed at the N.C. High School Athletic Association board of directors meeting and give their take on each measure.
The N&O panel features:
▪ D. Clay Best (Smithfield Herald, Clayton News-Star, Garner-Cleveland Record)
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▪ J. Mike Blake (The Cary News and Southwest Wake News)
▪ Aaron Moody (Eastern Wake News)
▪ Jessika Morgan (Midtown Raleigh News and North Raleigh News)
▪ W.E. Warnock (Chapel Hill News and The Durham News)
Removing the cap on athletes allowed for skill development is being celebrated by coaches statewide. Who stands to benefit the most?
Best: Teams with dedicated coaching staffs stand to gain the most. Off-season work is one of the things coaches don’t technically get paid for. (Yes, they get a supplement for each sport they coach, but it’s one of those things coaches do even though they know it’s reducing their actual pay rate for coaching from a quarter an hour to 20 cents an hour.) It takes both coaches who are willing to get student-athletes out on the field in the ‘off-season’ and players who are willing to do it, knowing the payoff may not come until six months later.
Blake: I’ll go with rural schools, who have been struggling to compete with metro-area schools across all classifications in “country club” sports. Are you a volleyball coach but no one on your team has access to a year-round club team? That’s OK, you can work out almost (there are some stipulations) as often as you want; and with all of your players instead of just five. Are you a player and want to start a lacrosse team but have no club teams nearby? Now a coach can work with you six days a week if you and he or she are up for starting one. And football need not worry – not even the girls’ sports can have skill development on your allotted days.
Moody: Everyone gains something from this. Younger programs and rebuilding teams certainly won’t mind the opportunity to get development time as a whole rather than in segments, in waves. And for the more established programs and teams, this will make it easier to gauge who is who and fill in voids.
Morgan: Of course the players benefit the most. More development equals more competition. It’ll give the prospective player a deeper look into the sport and quite possibly a chance to prove they can be on a team. It may provide more confidence to try out and may be a great vessel for additional team-building. I’ve seen some teams hardly have enough players to field a team, and who knows? The change could even alleviate that issue for some schools. It sounds encouraging for those who want to play a sport but don’t know much about it and are willing to learn.
Warnock: “The most” is strictly a relative term. Players, coaches and teams all benefit.
The NCHSAA playoff seeding process has been overhauled and only conference and conference tournament champs get automatic bids – everyone else is a wild card. Also, Mideast and East teams will be split apart and paired together in the first round (No. 1 East vs. No. 16 Mideast, No. 8 Mideast vs. No. 9 East, etc.). Do you like the changes?
Best: I like getting back to less conference vs. conference chances in the opening round of the playoffs, so this is a great thing from that standpoint. The only downfall I see, is if you’re a smart scheduler you can work the system to your benefit. Know you have a stacked team coming in two years? Beef up the non-conference schedule to get ready for the playoffs. Building a program and just want some wins and your kids to experience the playoffs? Cut back on the stud programs on your schedule.
Blake: Overall I like it. But rolling it out next year may be one year too early. Teams are already locked into their schedules, so a conference can’t just come up with a conference tournament on the fly. Also, a team playing Murderer’s Row in nonconference has added pressure to win the whole league instead of finishing top-three for an automatic bid. Were this put in place last year, Northern Durham football – which started 0-5 and ended 5-1 – would’ve been one of the last teams into the playoffs instead of having a home game. The Knights are playing all those same teams next year and cannot change.
Moody: I think the prospect of champs only as automatic bids makes sense. Some teams in top-heavy leagues stand to suffer as a result, but this ultimately rewards the champs and then the best of the rest based on record. I’m also OK with fewer rematches and just seeing new opponents in general. It makes sense, if you are playing in the state playoffs, to play against unfamiliar opponents early on.
Morgan: I do not like this change. I say, if it ain’t broke, right? What’s the problem when Millbrook and Heritage have to play each other in basketball two or three or four times a year? Who cares? I think it adds to the intensity of postseason games, like the Thunder-Spurs series. When I first started here, I was fascinated about how many times Wake Forest football had ended Millbrook’s season in the playoffs because the two Cap-8 Conference teams had recently met often in the postseason. I thought about how incredible it would be for Millbrook to be due and beat Wake Forest instead. I think the new format would take away from stories like that.
Warnock: Most coaches, I think, will like it because it should lead to more genuine seeding, as opposed to cookie-cutter templates where Conference A’s No. 1 automatically goes against Conference Z’s No. 4, regardless of the teams or their records.
Not reporting or misusing the eight-quarter rule has forced many football teams to forfeit wins in recent years. Is reducing the number of players eligible from 12 to five in 4A/3A and 10 in 1A/2A a good thing?
Best: Anything that cuts down on this practice is a good thing. The number of non-1A/2A schools that need to do this is miniscule. Shouldn’t even be allowed at all in the 4A ranks.
Blake: I don’t think it will make much of an impact. We’ll still have coaches who forget to file the right paperwork at the right time. Hopefully I’m wrong.
Moody: I doubt it will matter all that much, but I do think the limits are proportional to the needs teams in the different classifications may come across.
Warnock: Can’t see it having a significant impact. Coaches still will coach players based on the rules as they are given.
What other NCHSAA change struck you as being a good or bad thing?
Best: I like the emphasis on avoiding any national end-of-season tournaments. Want a national champion or a world champion? Pick a college or pro team. High school sports are not the place for them.
Blake: Changing the ticket prices on championship baseball tickets to allow some patrons to pay for multiple games on Saturday was long overdue. Folks hated having to clear the stadium and pay all over again. It saves the fans money.
Moody: I think it is wise to continue considering the broader picture of what the NCHSAA 1A membership is becoming in terms of how nontraditional schools fit into the mix. The situation truly does raise the question: Are there still four classes, only, or has something else emerged?
Morgan: Going back to the association loosing player development restrictions, I like how ADs wouldn’t have to check behind coaches to see how many players are in a workshop. I like the freedom it creates.
Warnock: The beginning of a seeding process for some sports is overdue, and now welcomed by many. Tennis coaches have been begging for that for years.