The Transylvania Times -

NCHSAA Continues To Struggle With 1A Playoff Formatting


May 14, 2018

You have to say this for the N.C. High School Athletic Association, they are certainly decisive in their indecisions.

Almost 12 months to the day after the NCHSAA announced they would be cutting the playoff field for six major sports in the 1A and 4A classifications from 64 to 48 teams, the state’s governing board of high school athletics announced just last week that beginning in 2018-19, that decision would be reversed for 1A schools, going back to the original 64-team playoff format.

The move won’t affect football, but will affect volleyball, as well as boys’ and girls’ basketball.

It was an interesting decision, as you typically don’t see these types of overhauls repealed so shortly after they were implemented.

NCHSAA Board President Joe Poletti explained the decision, saying the number of 1A schools participating in volleyball and basketball were on par with the number of participating teams in the 2A and 3A ranks, both of which have 64-team playoff fields.

That statement is true.

However, the elephant in the room, and the one most pervasive in the 1A ranks, is the number of nontraditional schools that dominate 1A athletics, both in numbers and in results.

The state’s official listing of 1A schools put the total number at 108.

Of that amount, between 35-40 are charter schools or private schools. That margin of error is allotted simply for argument’s sake of specifying which schools technically are or aren’t charter schools/private schools.

Those schools make up a far greater percentage of the total than any other classification in the state.

There are two 1A conferences comprised of entirely nontraditional schools. One six-team conference has only one public school.

Several other conferences have about a 50-50 makeup of public and nontraditional schools.

Beyond the sheer numbers, those schools have also been overwhelmingly successful.

Reviewing the three sports that will be impacted locally – volleyball, boys’/girls’ basketball – nontraditional schools dominated the most recent round of playoffs.

In the field of 48, nontraditional schools accounted for 37 percent of teams in volleyball, 35 percent of teams in girls’ basketball and 35 percent of teams in boys’ basketball.

The deeper the playoffs went, the more nontraditional schools dominated.

In volleyball, they account for 5-of-8 teams in the fourth round, 3-of-4 teams in the regionals and both teams in the championship.

The Final Four in boys’ basketball were all nontraditional schools.

That dominance was lesser in girls’ basketball, with Pamlico County advancing to the regionals and the championship game.

If you look at the brackets, you see a lot of the same teams.

Roxboro Community, Community School of Davidson, Rocky Mountain Prep, Lincoln Charter, Voyager Academy, Falls Lake Academy, just to name a few.

One can debate the inherent advantages that schools like these have in putting together teams over traditional public schools, of which there are several, but the issue at hand is how to solve the problem of nontraditional schools essentially taking over the playoffs.

This issue was discussed last year by Murphy football coach David Gentry, a member of the NCHSAA Board of Directors.

Last year, Gentry wrote a letter to the NCHSAA proposing a separate playoff bracket for 1A nontraditional schools.

In his letter, Gentry cited the Wells Fargo Cup, an award given out at the end of the school year based on the cumulative success of all athletic programs at high schools across the state.

In the past five years, Gentry noted, no public 1A school finished in the top two of the Wells Fargo standings and in 2016, the top public school, Elkin, finished in fifth place.

That kind of dominance is impossible to dismiss. So, clearly the deck is stacked against 1A public schools.

With the ongoing softball and baseball playoffs, nontraditional schools accounted for 15 teams in the softball bracket (31 percent) and 17 teams in the baseball bracket (35 percent).

Given the state’s decision to expand the playoffs in other sports beginning next year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the same thing done in baseball and softball in 2019.

But expanding the playoffs without addressing the issue of nontraditional schools isn’t going to change anything.

Sure, there will be more public schools that get into the field, but there will also be more nontraditional schools that get in, as well, and proportionally, the numbers likely won’t shift much, if at all.

Gentry’s proposal for a separate playoff for nontraditional schools is practical and could be easily implemented.

The state could even argue that if they did create a separate field, eliminating roughly 1/3 of all 1A schools, that sticking with a 48-team bracket would make sense and keep the playoff field competitive.

There is also precedence for having a separate field.

The North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association operates virtually the same way the NCHSAA does, only they deal entirely with private schools.

A couple of local examples of those schools would be Asheville School and Christ School.

You could argue that a lot of the 1A nontraditional schools should be members of the NCISAA, but putting that aside, the template for the state to create a bracket exclusively for nontraditional schools is already in place.

Ultimately, all you can ask for is a level playing for every team across the board, and that isn’t happening in 1A athletics.

When nontraditional schools always win the Wells Fargo Cup and public schools rarely make the regionals, let alone the finals, in major sports, it’s clear the field isn’t level.

Expanding the playoff field back to 64 teams isn’t going to fix it. The only way to address the issue is to have a separate playoff field for public and nontraditional schools.

No playoff system is perfect, and 1A schools, in particular, are hard to evenly match due to their smaller size and often limited resources, but the issue of nontraditional schools taking over 1A athletics at the expense of public schools is a glaring problem that is too large to overlook.

The NCHSAA needs to go back to the drawing board, again, and reform the system to ensure that it is fair for all parties.


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