High School Sports

NCHSAA loosens skill development restrictions, overhauls playoffs

The Charlotte Catholic Cougars celebrate their victory over Cary in the NCHSAA 4A state finals at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC on Saturday, March 12, 2016. Catholic defeated Cary 49-46.
The Charlotte Catholic Cougars celebrate their victory over Cary in the NCHSAA 4A state finals at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC on Saturday, March 12, 2016. Catholic defeated Cary 49-46. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The ways in which coaches can work with players in the offseason is changing after the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s spring board of directors meeting Wednesday in Chapel Hill.

The board removed a restriction on the number of players allowed for a skill development session held during the school year – previously "one less than a full team," which meant four in basketball or eight in baseball, etc.

Now all sports are unlimited – with the exception of football, which has a special 10-day skill development period at the end of each spring that already had no limitations – with regard to the number of athletes that can participate for 1 1/2 hours per day.

Coaches cannot turn away prospective players and cannot make these skill development sessions a requirement.

"I think it benefits our education-based coaches. If we believe that our coaches – who take the coaches’ fundamentals course and maybe take other courses – if we believe they are all that and a bag of potato chips, then we want our kids under our tutelage," NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said. "We believe we have the best opportunity to teach sportsmanship, to teach integrity and to emphasize fair play and do those kinds of things."

There was some give-and-take. Academic year dead periods were extended from four weeks to six weeks in the fall (first day of practice until Sept. 15), winter (first day till Dec. 15) and spring (first day till April 1) to encourage athletes to play multiple sports.

Outside of those dates – or football’s 10-day skill development period at the end of the year, which is, in essence, a dead period for all other sports – a coach can hold a skill development session any day of the week except Sunday and during football’s skill development 10-day period.

Removing the restriction also removes potential violations.

"Now the AD doesn’t have to step into the gym and worry about how many of those girls that are in this gym right now are actually working with ‘Coach Tucker’ and how many are working with ‘Coach Smith’ who happens to be the volleyball coach. It makes it a bit cleaner," Tucker said.

Nontraditional schools

A committee will be formed in the fall to discuss board member David Gentry’s idea to split certain 1A playoff brackets between traditional public schools and nontraditional ones – such as charter, parochial and magnet schools. Gentry is the football coach at Murphy High in the mountains.

Some 1A championships, like golf, cross country, tennis and basketball, have been won by charter, parochial and magnet schools much more than traditional public schools lately.

"Our 1A schools have, over the years, had some concerns about the growing success of schools that fall outside of ... the schools we’re used to seeing in the NCHSAA membership," Tucker said.

Potential new amendments or bylaw changes would have to "be in step with the changing face of education," Tucker said.

"What I do foresee is that we will have to continue to look at the makeup of the membership and (ask), ‘Has the makeup of the membership changed in such a way that we no longer have four classes, or do we have four classes plus something else – I don’t know what that would be," Tucker said. "Do we now have a 1A classification, but within that 1A classification it has to look different because the number of 1A schools has increased drastically? We’ll have to look at it in totality."

A committee was formed three years ago about the same topic, and a transfer and attendance zone policy was implemented that said all transfers must sit out a year (minus an education board’s approval) and all students must be within a 25-mile radius (minus those parochial students who attend a church within the diocese).

"I’m always concerned about issues that seem to pit one group against another group," Tucker said. "They can be divisive."

Playoff overhaul

A new playoff format is coming to all sports next athletic year as part of a one-year test program to help reduce conference rematches in the first round.

Conference champions – regular-season and tournament – will get automatic bids, and everyone else will get at-large bids to round out the 64-team brackets. This includes football, which has the 64 playoff teams in each classification subdivided into 32-team sets of 4AA and 4A, 3AA and 3A and so on.

The 64 teams will be broken into four regional pods – East, Mideast, Midwest and West based on longitudinal coordinates – and then pitted against one another, with the No. 1 seed in the East playing the No. 16 in the Mideast with the winner playing either the No. 8 Mideast or No. 9 East and so on.

"When we get into the playoffs, what’s the biggest thing you hear? ‘We’re playing the same team we just played last week.’ … That’s one reason for this," Tucker said.

In non-64-team brackets like lacrosse, tennis and wrestling, a format yet-to-be-determined will be introduced. There will be some seeding qualities.

Other actions

▪ Ticket prices for NCHSAA track and field championships this year will be $10. The 3A and 1A championships will be held on the same day at the same site, followed by 4A and 2A.

▪ There will be no need to clear the stadium between games at this year’s baseball and softball championships. Fans can now purchase tickets for multiple games.

▪ Three umpires are now required for NCHSAA regional final series in baseball and softball.

▪ Realignment for 2017-21 was approved without an appeal.

▪ The NCHSAA voted against allowing teams to participate in national tournaments that occur after the state championships. The National Federation of High Schools does not sanction any of these tournaments, but the NCHSAA is open to changing its rule if the NFHS changes that in the future.

J. Mike Blake: 919-460-2606, @JMBpreps