Two Cents from the Franklin Mint: The Times, they are a Changing

By
Updated: June 16, 2019

Two Cents from the Franklin Mint

by Jon Franklin

The Times, They Are a Changing

Let me first begin by apologizing for the abrupt hiatus in production of The Franklin Mint. As the times, they are a changing. Within my job in law enforcement, it’s required a lot of my time and attention to helping keep our communities safe. 

But as my job seems to ease up (for now), production can resume. As the times continue to change, so it appears the landscape of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association is also changing. 

In its’ annual meeting just a few months ago, the NCHSAA (or the Association) is seeking to add a 5A class. 

As new high schools throughout North Carolina continue to be built, the current four classification setup within North Carolina high school athletics continues to get more bloated. In my opinion, this landscape should have changed two or three realignment cycles ago. But in any event, the change seems to be coming, and I for one, am glad for it.

Since 2001, the Association has used a bifurcated football playoff system, causing the prestige of the football playoffs to tarnish. Since 2007, the Association expanded state playoffs in many sports to 64 teams, thinking North Carolina high school sports should be like the NCAA. Since, 2013, the Association has used the MaxPreps computer ranking system to seed teams for state tournament play – in criteria that continues to be more confusing than the BCS/College Football Playoff computer ranking system.

Because of these three areas, high school athletics in North Carolina have become so complicated. Before, they seemed to be so simple.

As of the last realignment cycle, there are 407 schools participating in the NCHSAA. Currently, schools are subdivided on a 20-30-30-20 basis. This means that schools in the top twenty percent in ADM (Average Daily Membership) were classified as 4A, the following thirty percent to 3A, the next following thirty percent as 2A, and the lowest twenty percent as 1A. With the advent of a 5A class, the classes could be evenly split five ways at twenty percent across the board. Thus, placing 82 teams in each classification. 

With an extra class, the benefits could range to the following:

1) Discontinuing the bifurcated football playoffs, resuming a singular, 32-team playoff with five state champions.

I don’t know about you, but I have never understood the logic of having two 32-team tournaments. In the 4A and 1A classes, there are approximately 75 teams in those classes, allowing 85% of the teams to actually qualify. In 2A and 3A there are roughly 125 teams apiece, causing a little more than half of these teams in qualifying.

In many cases, these football playoffs have featured mediocre to sub-standard teams featuring abysmal records, poor showings from said sub-standard teams, incurring injuries from teams playing in games that should have never been played as a result of the need for revenue. And yes, when you play twice the number of games in the tournament phase, you will get more money. 

In some years, teams with atrocious records robbed much better teams of better playoff seeds, first round byes, and second round home games. In some years, these bad teams actually bumped out far better teams from qualification. This should have been the other way around.

Before this crazy idea, North Carolina high school football featured a prestigious tournament that had tremendous games, brought huge crowds, and laid to rest as to who were the best teams in all of North Carolina.

2) Discontinuing the 64-team playoff in most team sports, returning to the familiar 48-team playoffs.

In the past, the one of the rewards for the eight best teams in the East and West, was a first-round bye. This allowed you a day or two off from practice, a chance to scout your sectional semifinal opponent, a chance to heal up from an injury, catch up on homework, or just catching up with friends and family. The other was hosting a home game in the second round.

If you were among the sixteen other schools, you had to play the extra game. This made your road much harder, but also sweeter if you were successful. 

Again, with more games, the Association receives more revenue. But at what expense?

At the surface, the expense seems to come at the safety of student-athletes. When playing unnecessary games, the propensity remains for student-athletes to become injured. 

With 82 teams in 2A through 5A, and 79 teams in 1A, there is no need for 64-team tournaments. If you continue to have them, you might as well allow EVERY team to play in the state playoffs, and that should NEVER happen.

3) Going to new cities and venues to play regional and state championship level events.

If you’re the cities of Charlotte, Greensboro or the other major cities in North Carolina, you must be salivating at the opportunity to host state championship events. With the Big Four schools (Duke, UNC, NC State, & Wake Forest) in a rotation, and the new 5A class forthcoming, some logical choices for a new championship venue could be the new Jerry Richardson Stadium (capacity 15,000 with future plans to expand up to 40,000) on the UNC-Charlotte campus or BB&T Stadium (capacity – 21,500) at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. 

In basketball and/or Volleyball, Charlotte’s Halton Arena (capacity – 9,100) at or the Bojangles’ Coliseum (capacity – 8,600) are viable options as is the lower bowl of the Greensboro Coliseum (a former state championship location) and the adjacent Fieldhouse. Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (capacity – 9,314), also a former state championship location in the 1970’s for basketball, is also worthy of consideration.

In baseball, one should consider the BB&T Ballparks in Charlotte and Winston-Salem (capacities – 10,200 and 5,500, respectively), First National Bank Field in Greensboro (capacity – 7,500), Durham Bulls Athletic Park (capacity – 10,000) or the new Segra Stadium (capacity – 4,786) in Fayetteville.

—-

With these facilities mentioned, now is the opportunity to move all regional championship events to neutral sites. If you have teams within a reasonable, yet equidistant distance from a college site, it makes perfect sense to play the regional championship game at that site. For example in the far west, 1A power Murphy and Robbinsville are perennial football contenders. Should they meet in the 1A Western Regional Championship game, move their regional site to nearby E.J. Whitmire Stadium on the campus of Western Carolina University. More closer to home, should Orange and Cedar Ridge make it to the 4A Eastern Regional Championship game, their game could be moved to either Durham County Memorial Stadium or O’Kelley–Riddick Stadium on the North Carolina Central University campus. 

With the pros, there are also cons.

With an extra class, there are some concerns such as:

1)Increased number of split-classification conferences.

Before the explosion in the number of high schools built across North Carolina in the past 20 years, the amount of true conferences (featuring all conference schools in a single classification) was very high. Now, that’s changed. With a 5A class coming into play, we may see very few conferences from one classification. In fact, the only true conferences may be in the major cities.

During the initial phase of the 2013-2017 realignment process, the Association hired Cary-based computer company SAS to perform a rough draft. SAS was directed to compile a list of conferences with at least six and no more than eight schools in a conference. SAS was also instructed to only make true conferences and no split conferences.

The result was mixed. Schools in and around the major cities could afford to have a full conference, while schools in more rural areas were driving great distances. For example, Cedar Ridge and Orange were placed in a 3A conference with East Chapel Hill, Eastern Alamance, Northern Vance, Southern Durham, and Oxford (J.F.) Webb. With a total drive of 65 miles from Mebane to Henderson, this conference was viable.

The inverse of this was a 4A western conference featuring Alexander Central, Lake Norman (Charlotte), McDowell, T.C. Roberson (Asheville), South Caldwell, and Watauga. In this conference, every road game was at least an hour’s drive away. The shortest from South Caldwell to Watauga at 38 miles or 1 hour away, the longest from Asheville to Mooresville at 126 miles or 2 hours, 4 minutes, and others in-between. 

Because of this and other similar situations, the Association nixed this idea.

But with a new class on the horizon, a true conference will become at a novelty. I do hope that with an abundance of split conferences that the split will only be of the classifications above and/or below. For example, 5A-4A, 4A-3A, 3A-2A, and 2A-1A. 

2)Increased travel during playoffs, causing an increase in fuel costs.

As mentioned in the previous point, fuel costs may go up. For small counties with limited budgets, bus fuel for extra-curricular activities will be at a premium. 

This was especially true when teams from opposite ends of the state met in the first round of the football playoffs. Some examples come to mind:

2006 1A West Quarterfinal: North Duplin at Cherokee – 366 miles; or 5 hours, 46 minutes.

2006 1A West First Round: North Duplin at Rosman – 353 miles; or 5 hours, 26 minutes.

2003 1AA West First Round: (Newton Grove) Hobbton at Cherokee – 351 miles; or 5 hours, 22 minutes.

2004 2A West First Round: South Columbus at Avery County – 276 miles; or 4 hours, 46 minutes.

2005 1AA West First Round: (Newton Grove) Midway at Avery County – 239 miles; or 4 hours, 11 minutes.

While these instances were primarily in the 1A and 2A divisions, I feel this could become a norm if there are not enough qualified teams. But hopefully with a reduced amount of teams in state tournaments, this would be a rare occurrence. In any event, the Association should never loosen standards to allow inferior teams to play in the state playoffs.

3)Increased classification appeals based upon geography.

At the recent NCHSAA Annual Meeting that prompted the new 5A class, Waynesville’s Tuscola High School (Average Daily Membership – 950) appealed to the NCHSAA in regards to its’ realignment as a 3A school. Citing a drop in enrolment and appealing the original ruling as a result of “irregularities and a lack of due process in the appeals process”, Tuscola asked to be reclassified as a 2A school like its fellow Haywood County school, Pisgah (Average Daily Membership – 968). Tuscola needed a two-thirds majority to overturn the original ruling, but fell 28 votes short. As of this writing, Haywood County Schools is pondering to accept the ruling or to file a legal challenge.

I can’t say that I blame Tuscola in appealing. But I do wonder why 28 other schools didn’t vote for them knowing their issues. Anywho, this could happen more frequently as the any new schematics that will dictate a school’s classification. If a school has dwindling numbers as a result of graduations, dropouts, transfers, etc., why couldn’t a school reclassify? There has to be a way for this to happen if major events take place. 

In my draft, Cedar Ridge is the third-least populated school in the 4A class, based on the 2017 ADM figures. It’s conceivable that Cedar Ridge could go to 4A or 3A depending on the ADM in 2022. Should a ruling be made that Orange County Schools and Cedar Ridge High School doesn’t like, they could appeal. I find it hard to keep a school in a classification, especially when a school has a large drop in attendance, putting its enrolment at the same level as the classification below them. 

CONCLUSION

We all knew this day would come at some point. But as North Carolina continues to grow, so will the NCHSAA. And as the NCHSAA grows, the bloated, yet painful tales that plagued the Association over the last 20 years should never happen again. As the times continue to change, so must the NCHSAA if they want to have the best high school competition in the Land – even if that means expansion, yet again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar