NCHSAA board votes to help athletic programs affected by COVID-19

By Earl Vaughan Jr.

 

 

The N.C. High School Athletic Association wrapped up its winter board of directors meeting Thursday and issued a number of key decisions that will have huge impact on both short-term and long-term events for its more than 400 member schools.

Among the biggest items were an infusion of money for schools struggling with COVID-19, no immediate change in the modified athletic calendar and a big switch in how state football champions will be determined beginning with the 2021 season next fall.

In a move to help schools that have been hurt by the lack of gate revenue from COVID-19, the board released $4 million in undesignated funds from the NCHSAA endowment to be divided among all the member schools that offer athletic programs. 

A subcommittee was formed to determine a formula for distributing the money.

Que Tucker, commissioner of the NCHSAA, called the plan to help out the membership “a major decision.’’

Because of the recent spike statewide in COVID-19 cases, some people feared that the NCHSAA would backtrack on the start of basketball season, but the board decided to make no alterations in the modified 2020-21 athletic calendar.

Basketball is still scheduled to begin practice on Monday, Dec. 7, with the first basketball games not scheduled until Monday, Jan. 4

Because it is now requiring athletes in all sports to wear masks during both practice and games, the NCHSAA did make one change for the upcoming basketball season. Officials have been given permission to call a 60-second officials’ timeout in each quarter of a basketball game to help players adjust to competing with masks on.

“We are encouraged by the protocols we have in place and by the successes we see in other states,’’ said Jerry Simmons, current president of the NCHSAA and the principal at New Bern High School. “We are optimistic the addition of the officials’ timeout will help.’’

NCHSAA president and New Bern High School principal Jerry Simmons.

Two major changes were made in the sport of football. Beginning with the fall 2021 season, the practice of subdividing each of the state’s four classifications into A and AA subdivisions based on school enrollment will end. The delayed 2020 season, which is currently scheduled to start practice on Feb. 8, will be the final one with subdivided classifications.

Games are scheduled to begin Feb. 26 with state champions to be crowned on May 8.

Beginning with the fall 2021 season, the state will go from crowning eight state football champions to four, putting it back in line with the other sports.

Tucker noted that when subdivision began it was the result of a request from the state’s smallest schools, 1-A, who felt there was a competitive disadvantage for the schools with the lowest enrollment trying to field football teams.

The plan was expanded to include all four classifications. At that time, the NCHSAA based its four-year realignment of the state’s high schools into conferences solely on enrollment. The realignment process now in progress is considering multiple factors that Tucker and the NCHSAA staff hope will make the process more accurate and give schools a better chance of competing.

The first draft of the new realignment, which will take effect in the fall of 2021, is scheduled to be released on Thursday, Dec. 10.

The other big change for football will be dropping from a maximum of 11 regular-season games to 10. Tucker said this has been discussed with the football coaches for a number of years.

“We were one of only a few states across the country playing as many games as we played to crown a state champion,’’ Tucker said, indicating safety was the primary reason for cutting the schedule.

“I don’t think there’s ever a time this board meets when we don’t think about health and safety,’’ Tucker said.

She voiced optimism in a prepared statement sent to the media.

“As we await the COVID-19 vaccine and hopeful abatement of the current worldwide crisis, we believe better days are ahead for NCHSAA member schools and we will again be able to offer the robust programs and championship events that our student-athletes, coaches and communities have enjoyed for so long,’’ she said.