Chatham County athletic directors weigh in on realignment after NCHSAA Board of Directors meeting

County ADs voice opinions on actions, recommendations brought forth by NCHSAA


Realignment was a pressing issue in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors meeting last week, and in regard to the actions made and recommendations brought forth to address it, Chatham County athletic directors voiced their opinions.

During the meeting, the Board of Directors approved the “Big 32” model which will classify the largest 32 schools in the NCHSAA into the 8A classification, leaving the remaining schools to be divided into classes 1A through 7A as evenly as possible.

The Bylaw Task Force Committee, which suggested the “Big 32” model, also recommended 24-32-team brackets for the 8A classification, 32-team brackets for 2A through 7A and 16-team brackets for 1A, instead of the current 64-team brackets. The Committee additionally recommended realignment every two years. These recommendations still have to be voted on by the Board of Directors.

For the most part, Chatham County’s athletic directors favor the eight-classification model because of how it addresses the population issue. Looking at the 2023-24 average daily enrollment numbers, Seaforth (1,074 students), Northwood (735), Jordan-Matthews (890) and Chatham Central (348) have much different student populations, but they all share a conference with Chatham Central being the only 1A school out of the other three 2A schools.

A wide range of student populations in one conference, not just one class, bring concerns of fairness, considering larger schools have the advantage of depth in team sports and more opportunities for winning in individual sports.

“Eight classifications makes it a more level playing field when it comes to playoffs,” Barry West, Jordan-Matthews’ athletic director, said. “There shouldn’t be matchups where an 800 enrollment school faces a school with almost 1,100 in the playoffs.”

Said Chatham Central athletic director Tommy Peele, “I think eight classifications would be a good thing. I think it will create a little more parity and give some schools and some athletes some chances that they don’t have in the current four-classification model.”

Jason Amy, Seaforth’s athletic director, also believes eight classifications will make competition fairer, but he took a different perspective on the change, reasoning that it “waters” down the concept of a champion. Eight teams instead of just four will win state titles in certain sports.

“I feel like we’re kind of in stage of having more champions which questions who the real champion is quite honestly,” Amy said. “But, I understand the thought process. We’re a growing state with more and more schools.”

Regarding the proposed reduction in playoff berths, the county’s athletic directors generally support the recommendation, but for different reasons.

For Amy, it goes back to competition as he feels less berths will get rid of the less competitive games in earlier rounds.

“Currently it just seems like (there’s) a lot of teams that have to make the playoffs, or they’re just not necessarily what I would classify as playoff teams,” Amy said. “I think it discredits the whole playoffs and what we do when you have so many teams that are able to get in. And then, it takes us two to three rounds just to get to where the competition level is at.”

Peele likes the idea of smaller playoff brackets because he feels it will put more emphasis on the regular season and it will better accommodate small schools like Chatham Central that have multi-sport athletes who may miss portions of other seasons due to long playoff runs.

“This year our basketball teams advanced to the second and third rounds of the playoffs, and our baseball and softball teams were playing conference games before basketball playoffs were over,” Peele said. “We were missing those kids early in baseball and softball.”

The athletic directors also shared mutual support for the proposed two-year realignment cycle. They cite the constant change in student populations, especially with the NCHSAA continuing to add new member schools, and schools already request classification changes in the current four-year year cycle. Amy also added that keeping the cycle to at least two years will allow schools to keep home and home series for sports like football and basketball.

Yet, classification realignment will also come with conference realignment. Some of Chatham County’s schools already find themselves in a split conference with two classifications, and after the Board of Directors meeting, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said the eight classification model could bring conferences with up to three classifications for the purposes of keeping schools geographically close.

Chatham County’s athletic directors understand the need for keeping schools close as travel can become a significant cost when teams constantly have to make long bus rides. Cameron Vernon, Northwood’s athletic director, doesn’t mind split conferences as long as teams are in the right classification come playoff time.

“If we’re a 3A (in the eight-classification model), which is what it looks like, and we’re in a conference with 4A and 5A schools, I’m not so sure I’m that concerned,” Vernon said. “But, when it comes to playoff time, and we’re matched with other 3A schools, I think that’s fair.”

Peele, who has experienced being the smaller classification school in a split conference, says being in one feels like “climbing up hill” when facing bigger schools in conference play, and it’s for that reason that West would like to see split conferences avoided when possible.

“Although the teams would go to different playoff brackets, the regular season results would still favor the larger schools,” West said. “There could be situations where a 2A team consistently finishes third or fourth in their league and also consistently makes it to the third or fourth round of the playoffs. However, it cannot compete for the conference regular season championship due to competing against schools in the conference that have two times the number of competitors.”