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North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Proposed Realignment Change Vote Deadline April 14th

By Tim Gardner

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association–the governing body of prep sports in the state–has proposed expanding from four to seven classifications beginning with the 2025-2026 school year. If the measure passes from its school membership, the number of classifications would be based solely on the number of schools in the association, with no class exceeding 64 schools.

Votes on the proposal are due April 14. According to the NCHSAA, votes are submitted by principals of member schools with input with their local superintendents and Boards of Education as well as other school officials.  Three-fourths of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) member schools must vote yes on the proposal in order for it to pass. That means that of the 432 member schools, a total of 324 member schools must vote to approve the amendment. Any schools that fail to respond to the vote today is counted as a “no” vote, opposed to having seven classifications and remaining at four.

Also, according to the NCHSAA, the voting result of the proposal will be announced shortly after April 14th.

Since 1960, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, headquartered in Chapel Hill, has divided its schools into four classifications, even though it has added more than 100 schools in the time span. Therefore, it has crowned at least four state championships in a given sport.  However, from 2001-2020, the NCHSAA held eight state championships in football, splitting each of the four classifications into two subdivisions (West and East), but has returned to a four-class system since.

As of the current 2022-23 school year, there are 432 member schools in the NCHSAA. Of those, 380 had 11-player football on offense and defense each last season (2022).

The expansion proposal is supported by both the North Carolina Basketball and Football Coaches Associations.

If it passes, there will be as many as seven state championships in some of the most popular sports in the state’s prep ranks, like basketball. In football, there are currently enough teams for six classifications under the 64-team cap. Currently, 64 teams make the playoffs in most sports. The purpose of the proposal would be for half of the classification to make the playoffs, meaning a total of 32 teams. That would reduce the number of rounds in the playoffs from six rounds to five rounds.

But it would also likely result in more split conferences and more travel to athletic events for many member schools.

Passage of the proposal would put several High Country schools into higher classifications, based on Average Daily Membership (ADM) numbers during the current 2022-2023 school year.  Watauga (1,541) would move from 4-A to 6-A, Avery (607) and Mitchell (497) would move from 1-A to 2-A and Ashe County (914) would go from 3-A to 4-A.  

ADM numbers reflect this school year’s student populations from the first month of the academic year (usually August), but are not the same as enrollment because it averages the number of students present rather than the total enrolled. 

However, a bill introduced April 12 in the North Carolina State Senate could override the vote and preserve the four-class system. Senate Bill 636 introduced changes that would further strip the NCHSAA of its authority to govern high school sports in the state.

After a 2021 bill passed the legislature and was signed by Governor Roy Cooper, the NCHSAA was required to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the State Board of Education, which was still allowed to delegate some of the decision on rules to the NCHSAA.

If the new Senate 636 bill passes, the NCHSAA would be limited to four classifications based only on the ADM’s of the schools. It would assign all charter and private schools into the next highest classification than the one the school would be assigned to based on enrollment.

And if the new bill passes, the result of that NCHSA membership schools vote would be void because four classifications would be written into state law.

Additionally, passage of Senate Bill 636 would mandate that conferences will be determined solely on geography, division classification and average daily membership.

The 2021 legislation gave the State Board of Education the power to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the NCHSAA, but Senate Bill 636 would give that power exclusively to the state schools superintendent. 

But under provisions of Senate Bill 636, the state superintendent could agree to enter into a memorandum of understanding with nonprofit organizations like the NCHSAA for a period of four years.