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Highlights from the NCHSAA Winter board meeting

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors ended their winter meeting Thursday with a bit of give-and-take.

The NCHSAA board voted to dip into the Association’s endowment and provide $4 million to member schools to help with the impact of revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board also voted to reduce football regular seasons by a game beginning with the 2021-2022 season and end the practice of having two state football champions in each classification.

Those were among the highlights of the board’s annual winter gathering, one of two board meetings held each year when new rules are reviewed and voted upon. In addition to the give-and-take news, the board also:

  • Voted to add a 60-second break to each quarter this basketball season for officials and athletes to adapt to wearing masks during games
  • Decided not to make any changes to the current sports calendar for the rest of this school year. That means basketball practice will officially begin on Monday.
  • Made a slight tweak the guidelines for the 2021-2025 realignment process in advance of the first draft of that plan being announced next week.

But it was the football changes that generated the most discussion during a post-meeting press conference that NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker and board members held with members of the media.

Starting in fall 2021, schools will be allowed to play 10 regular-season football games and cannot schedule the first of those any earlier than two days ahead of the last Friday in August. For 2021, that will likely make the first playing date on Friday, August 27.

“This was not anything that we just simply threw out there and then our football coaches were unaware,” Tucker said. “We have been discussing this with the football coaches for several years.

“It was a health and safety issue. We were one of the few states across the country that were playing as many games as we have played to crown a state champion, and it was just time for us to try to bring that back in line not only with other folks across the country, but to do it so that we were helping our young people who play football be as safe as we possibly can make it.”

With the current 11-game schedule, schools typically have six home games in one season, with five the next (most schools schedule in two-year blocks). Thus, schools will likely lose one game of revenue per two-year cycle.

“(Schools) will feel that impact. Everybody will feel that impact,” Tucker said.

There will also be some impact to programs with the planned changes to the football playoffs. No longer will each class split, based on enrollment, into two divisions for the postseason, resulting in eight state football champions. Come the fall of 2021, it will be a return to the days of four champions, one per class.

Tucker said 64 teams would still qualify for the playoffs in each class, meaning the same number of schools will advance to postseason play as in the current format.

“Our bylaws have always spoken to four classifications, and for anybody who has been around a long time, when this request was made it was really just for the one class (1A),” Tucker said.

“As we’ve ridden along, we’ve had many requests from all of our sports across the spectrum, we all need to be subdivided, and certainly subdividing every single sport just simply is not the way that our boards have felt we needed to go. As a staff we did not see that was what needed to happen, for every single sport to be subdivided.”

The pending realignment helped spur the decision to be made now, Tucker said, and the recent rejection of a move to five classifications also played a role, said Jerry Simmons, current president of the Board of Directors.

“This is in response to a failed vote that we had by our membership to modify our bylaws,” Simmons said. “That vote, of course, would have permitted us to have more classifications, but again, that failed.”

With players and coaches required to wear masks during competition in the upcoming basketball season, Simmons also expressed his gratitude that the board approved the extra minute break for each quarter.

“That’s going to help our not only our student-athletes, but of course our officials with their work during this upcoming basketball season,” he said. “Our officials will be using whistle shields for football, soccer, swimming, basketball and lacrosse.”

How the $4 million subsidy for schools will be allocated has yet to be determined, but the process for making that determination has been set, and both Tucker and Simmons said they hope the process will proceed quickly.

“That’s going to help us assist member schools who qualify,” Simmons said. “We are working on the criteria that will define what qualifying means. Then we have established a committee, they’re going to work on that and they’re going to do so in a timely fashion.

“But we’re excited about that. Again, that’s an opportunity to offset some of the operating expenses of our member schools and we know, of course, those are falling short with limited gate receipts, concessions, things of that sort.”

By Andy Rhinehart