CHAPEL HILL — The N.C. High School Athletic Association has released another piece to the 2020-2021 puzzle.
A month after amending the sports calendar and overhauling seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, on Tuesday, the organization expanded on the schedules by posting details on playoffs.
The postseason has been cut in half with the majority of brackets going from 64 to 32 teams. Football has been subdivided into two 16-team brackets for each classification (1A, 2A, 3A, 4A).
“I’m excited there will be a culmination to these seasons,” West Carteret Athletic Director Michael Turner said. “I struggle with what the traveling will look like, but it’s something close to normal.”
Whether student-athletes will be asked to social distance on buses for road games is still a matter up in the air.
Tennis and wrestling won’t have dual team playoffs. There will only be individual regional and state tournaments for both sports. Consolation rounds won’t be included in wrestling tournaments. There will also be no regular season tournaments in wrestling.
Winning percentage or computer rankings (MaxPreps) have seeded brackets in recent years, but seeding will now go back to the predetermined brackets used years ago. Teams that finish in a specific place in conference standings will be matched up with other teams finishing in a similar place in its own conference.
Conferences with six or fewer teams will be given one automatic playoff bid, conferences with seven or eight teams will be given two automatic bids, and conferences with nine or more teams will be given three automatic bids.
Split conference bids will be based on the size of its half of the split. Extra playoff spots will be given as at-large bids based on conference winning percentage.
In order to be eligible for a team sport playoff berth, all schools must fully participate in conference competition as determined by each individual conference.
“It’s smarter to play an easier schedule now,” Croatan Athletic Director Dave Boal said. “It hurts you to play a tougher schedule.”
Scheduling is front and center on the minds of athletic directors these days.
Every sport except football is allowed 14 regular season competitions. The NCHSAA upped track and field, swimming and cross country from 10 to 14 with the latest guidelines. Football is allowed seven regular season games.
Croatan and East Carteret participate in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference, aptly named for its eight teams. Seven opponents mean the maximum 14 competitions for other sports and the maximum seven for football.
“The bad part is, you lose the Mullet Bucket (East versus West football), and other rivalry games,” East Carteret Athletic Director Daniel Griffee said. “It’s a tricky situation, because we’ve got enough in conference to fill our games.”
And while West has to worry about losing rivalry games with both Croatan and East, it also has the issue of a six-team 3A Coastal Conference.
“If (Croatan and East) play their conference, we’re not playing them in anything,” Turner said. “That is a nasty reality right now. We will have to look around scheduling-wise. It stinks, but we’ve kind of been in that boat for a while. We’re usually scrambling to find games. But it will be strange to not play our two natural rivals.”
Losing local games means losing plenty of revenue in a school year when athletic departments finances were already going to be tough. And that will be the case even if a select number of fans are permitted to attend games.
“It could be a tough year if we don’t let fans in,” Boal said. “If we can’t let fans in, you think, ‘We might as well shut football down right now.’ It’s $500 (for referees) before you open the gates for a varsity football game.”
Athletic directors said they’ve looked into streaming services that fans could subscribe to in order to watch games online, but their research is in the preliminary stages.
Regular season regulations were also released for individual sports like cross country, track and field, golf, tennis, wrestling, and swimming.
Cross country and track and field will have a maximum of four schools per meet.
“That is going to be interesting, because we’ve got eight teams in our conference,” Griffee said. “So how does that work? Do have meets in two places on the same day? It’s going to take some logistics to make this work.”
If there are four-team cross country meets, each team is limited to just seven runners. If there are three-team meets, each team may have nine runners. If there are two-team meets, each team may have 14 runners.
“At West Carteret, the cross country team takes three buses,” Turner said of the usually large Patriots squad. “They look like the marching band. But with only taking seven girls and seven boys to a meet, they won’t have that problem.”
Seven runners score in a cross country team, meaning only the “starters” would travel to four-team meets.
“They’re really going to have to work for their spots,” Boal said. “What a motivating weapon that will be. It helps coaches. They won’t have to motivate much. But you feel bad for those kids who will practice all week and won’t be able to take part in the meets.”