Keeping up with NCHSAA Realignment

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NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker stated in a conference call with media last week that the Association still plans to enforce its normal realignment bylaws, which requires a new realignment to be put in place before the 2021-2022 school year, despite recent complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For much of the last century, the scheduling of the Olympic Games and World Cups have been like clockwork.

The events each started at different points in history and are set to take place every four years. Nations spend the years in between events holding various qualifying competitions. The years of preparation allow countries to properly select rosters and train so that everything is ready when the time comes.

Or, rather, that’s the plan.

International conflict has caused the cancellation of these quadrennial events on rare occasions. World War I caused the cancellation of the 1916 Summer Olympics, while the 1942 and 1946 World Cups as well as the 1940 and 1944 Summer and Winter Olympic Games failed to take place due to World War II.

COVID-19 is the first event outside of a World War to throw a huge wrench into the plans of sports organizations worldwide. The most notable of which saw the International Olympic Committee postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by a year.

An event like the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s realignment is certainly not of the same magnitude of the Olympics or World Cup. Like both of those events, however, realignment is a multi-year process that requires intense planning and coordination of moving parts statewide.

The coronavirus is the latest obstacle to complicate realignment, which is set to take place every four years. With the 2019-20 school year officially over only one school year remains before the next realignment is set to take effect.

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker assured the new realignment is still set to begin in August 2021 as per the Association’s bylaws. Tucker stated in a May 26 conference call with members of the media that realignment is still on the Association’s agenda

“Right now, the bylaws are pretty clear,” Tucker said. “It says we realign every four years and so either we will have to figure out how to get that done in this crisis moving forward or, at some point in time, the membership will have to speak as it relates to that … bylaw so that we know how we need to go.”

It’s important to give some background on the recent realignment process in order to stress how important it is that the Association continue moving forward through the pandemic.

The current alignment of divisions went into effect August 2017 and will last through the end of the 2020-21 school year. The alignment included four classifications of athletics guided by Average Daily Membership (ADM).

According to realignment process and procedure guidelines on the NCHSAA website, football playing schools are listed largest to smallest and divided into four groups for classification purposes. This aims to place the top 20% of the schools in 4A, the next 30% in 3A, the following 30% in 2A and the final 20% in 1-A.

The guideline says the following regarding schools without football programs:

“Non-football playing schools, and those requesting independent status, will be temporarily removed; then the member schools are divided by the appropriate percentage to make the four classifications. If the divided number is a fraction, half or more is rounded up. The lines are drawn from the top down, so the process starts with the largest school and works down to the dividing line, then the next class, etc. If the dividing line comes between two schools with the exact same ADM, those schools will all be placed in the higher classification. After the lines are drawn, non-football playing schools and those requesting independent status, will be re-inserted into the appropriate classification, based on their ADM number.”

In addition to sorting schools into a classification, they are also placed in a conference. These conferences are determined using classification and proximity. Sometimes conferences can include multiple classifications (1A/2A, 2A/3A, 3A/4A) due to proximity issues.

Local high schools are placed in either the Northwest 1A and Western Piedmont 2A Conferences. Below is the layout of each conference as it currently stands and the school’s ADM during the 2016-17 school year, which is the year before the current alignment went into place.

NW1A: East Surry (632), South Stokes (538), Mount Airy (513), Bishop McGuinness (407), North Stokes (389) and Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy (206).

WPAC: West Stokes (901), Forbush (874), North Surry (871), Atkins (861), Surry Central (786), Walkertown (785) and Carver (743). North Forsyth dropped from 3A to 2A before the 2019-20 school year due to a special appeals process. North Forsyth’s 2018 ADM was 1,014.

The final year of an alignment usually operates as a lame duck year. This means new classifications would normally be known before the lame duck year and schools could use that final year for scheduling.

It was decided in March of 2019 that the NCHSAA would delay the realignment planning process (not start date) back one year. This was done so that an amendment proposal could be presented later in the year. This proposal would, in effect, create a fifth classification.

The proposal came later in 2019 and a ballot was distributed to NCHSAA member schools in January 2020. The ballot included two amendments. The first would allow the NCHSAA Board of Directors to create a fifth classification, while the second would allow the board to realign annually instead of every four years.

It was an uphill battle for the proposals from the beginning. Each needed a vote approval from 75% of the 418 member schools. This meant 314 school had to vote in the affirmative. A school that didn’t vote at all was counted as a vote against the proposal.

Neither reached the required 75% approval. Member schools were notified in late January about the decision. The NCHSAA revealed in April that the first proposal only received 68% approval. The Association did not disclose the specific voting results of the second.

So what does this mean moving forward?

Coming out of the April 28-29 Board of Directors meeting, Tucker said talks of realignment were “paused” as the NCHSAA put plans together for summer and fall athletics.

Despite the pause, the NCHSAA still plans to have a new realignment plan out to member schools by March of 2021. This only gives schools four to five months of scheduling and planning time as opposed to the entire school year.

The upcoming realignment carries a lot of weight because so much has changed. For those in the 1A division, the rise of charter schools has been the biggest talking point for the last few years.

Charter schools are popping up all over the state and are automatically placed in the 1A division due to size. However, these non-traditional public schools don’t have to abide by the same boundary restrictions as traditional public schools, meaning they can draw athletes from areas three times larger than that of a fellow 1A school like Mount Airy or East Surry.

The influx of new schools with a low population is pushing schools that traditionally compete in lower divisions up, which causes issues in more than just the 1A division.

Three North Carolina high schools had a 2019 ADM of at least 3,375 students. Since the realignment goes by percentage, there are 19 schools of 1,700 or fewer students also in the 4A division. Myers Park is the largest school in the state and has an ADM of 3,688. South Garner, which has 1,245 students, is the smallest of the 79 4A schools.

This discrepancy is seen across the board in football playing schools. The largest 3A school, Clayton, has 1,060 more students than the smallest 3A school, Eastern Wayne.

A nearby school, Atkins, is the largest 2A school and has 553 more students than the smallest 2A school, East Bladen. The largest football playing 1A school, Granville Central, has 630 more students than Winston-Salem Prep, which has only 152.

Many schools themselves have skyrocketed in population since the last alignment. Atkins is the largest 2A school at 1,138 students. This is bigger than 29 schools in the 3A division and is only 107 behind the smallest 4A school. However, Atkins only had 861 students in 2016 and was in the 1A division up until the 2017 realignment.

Online academies and charter schools have also resulted in the steep decline of students in some areas. South Stokes was a 1A school when the Northwest 1A/2A Conference was first split up, then moved up to 2A until 2017. A school that had 683 students in 2010 dipped below 500 in 2017.

In the same span, West Stokes dropped from 1,005 to 807. Surry Central has fewer than 700 students for the first time since 2001, and schools like East Surry and North Stokes reached their lowest ADMs since the turn of the millennium in 2018.

Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith