Basketball season, COVID-19 headlined winter meeting agenda

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 12/9/20

Last week was a busy one for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

With three sports currently in season and basketball teams starting official practices Monday, the association’s …

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Basketball season, COVID-19 headlined winter meeting agenda

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Last week was a busy one for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

With three sports currently in season and basketball teams starting official practices Monday, the association’s board of directors met last Wednesday and Thursday over Zoom for its annual winter meetings and voted on a slew of action items, many of them coronavirus-related.

The NCHSAA also finalized 2021-25 realignment data — which determines each member school’s 1A, 2A, 3A or 4A classification — and shared that information with schools and media last Friday.

Here’s a rundown of last week’s news and how it relates to Chatham County athletics.

No 2020-21 schedule changes

The board of directors voted to make “no alterations” to its 2020-21 modified sports calendar.

Most notably, that kept men’s and women’s basketball teams on track to start their season as scheduled with official practices Dec. 7 and official competitions on Jan. 4. Players must wear masks at all times.

Considering NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker acknowledged last month pushing back basketball season was a possibility, the news was a bit surprising. Jerry Simmons, the board president and New Bern High’s principal, said conversation surrounding a schedule change was “very rich.”

“I was encouraged and really respected the manner in which our board respected the issue,” Tucker added in a joint news conference with Simmons last Thursday. “It was: do we continue with the calendar as it was presented? Basketball’s official season begins Monday, but the first contest doesn’t occur until Jan. 4. I’m sure a lot will happen before Jan. 4.”

That month-long buffer period gave her, Simmons and the rest of the board enough confidence it could keep its current schedule — which “a lot of time and research went into,” Simmons said — intact.

New basketball guidelines

Starting basketball as scheduled, of course, comes with a few concessions.

Under the NCHSAA’s mask mandate for indoor events — announced late last month — all basketball players, coaches, fans and other personnel must wear cloth face coverings at all times during official practices and games. That includes the 10 players actively participating in a game at any moment.

Last week, the board of directors added two more safety precautions for basketball games.

First, to help on-court players adjust to wearing a mask, the board approved the creation of a 60-second “officials’ timeout.” The timeout will be called at the first dead ball following the four-minute mark of each quarter, and it’s designed as a moment for players to catch their breath and readjust their mask.

The NCHSAA also eliminated jump balls for the 2020-21 season; instead, the visiting team will get the first possession and simply inbound the ball to start the game.

For overtime periods, a coin toss will determine possession. Overall, the elimination of the jump ball — which minimizes close contact between players and officials — is a small gesture toward the health and safety of referees, many of whom are older and in higher risk categories for the coronavirus.

Football classifications

In a move that’ll shake up the NCHSAA football playoffs next season, the board of directors voted to remove football subdivisions from the state’s four classifications effective August 2021.

That’ll drop the number of brackets for football season from eight — which the NCHSAA had been doing since 2001 — back down to four. The association had previously split up each classification’s playoffs into two separate brackets — 1A and 1AA, for example — based on school size.

“Our bylaws have always spoken to four classifications,” Tucker said.

She emphasized that 64 teams will still make the playoffs in each classification — they’ll just all be in one single, 64-team bracket instead of two separate 32-team brackets like they were in 2019. A single 64-team team is standard practice in other NCHSAA team sports, such as basketball and volleyball.

Endowment funding

Some indisputably good news from last week: the board of directors approved the allocation of $4 million from the NCHSAA’s endowment fund as a one-time subsidy for schools playing sports during the 2020-21 season. Simmons dubbed it the COVID-19 Athletic Program subsidy, or CAP.

“This is a historic one-time subsidy,” Tucker said. “It was a major decision that will help our schools.”

The NCHSAA will form a subcommittee to determine the distribution formula and method for the endowment and announce that information at a later date. Regardless, it’ll serve as a much needed boost to athletic programs struggling from reduced ticket, merchandise and concession sales.

No changes for Chatham in realignment

The NCHSAA on Friday released information for its 2021-25 realignment of schools, which is required every four years under association bylaws. For Chatham County, there weren’t many changes.

The county’s five member high schools remained in their previous classifications: Northwood in the 3A East, Jordan-Matthews in the 2A East and Chatham Central, Chatham Charter and Woods Charter in the 1A East. Seaforth High School — which will open next fall — will also start off in the 2A East region.

To determine realignment “scores,” the NCHSAA looked at three factors: average daily membership of a school in 2019-20; its three-year average state cup points total; and its three-year average of identified student percentage (students who are on some form of government assistance).

To view raw data and final realignment scores for Chatham County’s high schools, plus FAQs and an explainer video, click here.

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.


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