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Why Florence won out again as sole venue for SC basketball semifinals, title games

Despite some criticism, the S.C. basketball semifinal and championship games will remain at one venue.

The S.C. High School League’s executive committee voted 10-3 Wednesday in favor of again holding the state basketball final four games and championships at the Florence Center.

Deeper discussion on the topic was held in closed session because it involved contracts and financial bids.

SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton told The State on Thursday that Florence and the North Charleston Coliseum were the only two sites that put in bids to host the games. North Charleston only available for the finals, Singleton said. Other sites — such as Bon Secours in Greenville, Colonial Life Arena in Columbia and Winthrop’s arena in Rock Hill — were unavailable for various reasons.

“The options really came down to use Florence Center for semifinals and North Charleston for the finals,” Singleton said. “And we took into consideration issues that schools had about travel. It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to move it further away from the Upstate than we already are.”

The agreement with Florence is a one-year deal, Singleton said, and the topic will be brought up again next spring.

The 2023-24 season was the first where South Carolina’s high school basketball semifinals and state championship games were held at one site — and the first time Florence Center hosted the finals.

In years past, the semifinals (or final four games) were held in two different arenas. The S.C. High School League’s playoff bracket is split in half geographically into an “upper state” and a “lower state,” and the winners of each side meet in the state championship — historically at a third venue in another city.

Coaches, mainly those competing in the upper state, complained about the distance teams had to travel from the Upstate area to Florence — especially when games featured teams in close proximity such as Riverside vs. Greer and Powdersville vs. Wren.

The State talked to several coaches who played in the semifinals or finals in Florence. Their reactions included happiness with the one site but also complaints over travel, lack of days between games and the desire to move the finals back to Columbia.

In addition to travel concerns, there were issues with the Florence Center facility, specifically its lighting, court and scoreboard. Singleton said the Florence Center has pledged to make upgrades.

“Florence Center has pledged to replace the lighting,” Singleton said. “They will either redo the floor or replace it. Those upgrades will satisfy a lot of the concerns. There is nothing we can do about travel. The venue allows to keep the format with one ticket for the whole day and can accommodate the crowds.”

Exact dates weren’t known yet for the basketball semifinals and finals, but the 2023-24 games took place on seven dates over a nine-day period. That’s expected to shift some next year with the Class 5A playoffs splitting into two divisions and resulting in more games.

The discussion of splitting 5A was held Wednesday but not final decision was made. A special-called executive committee meeting will be held next week.

In addition to basketball championships, it was voted that the football title games will remain at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. Last year was the first year all football championships were held at S.C. State.

Singleton said the options for football was between S.C. State, Benedict and South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium.

“S.C. State offered the best scenario for us to use,” Singleton said. “It had enough seating. Parking, while it was bit of a challenge, they have made a pledge to make it better once they get on campus. And financially, it worked out best for the league and member schools.”

The state wrestling individual championships will be moved from Anderson Civic Center to Florence Center. The wrestling postseason also will be moved up a week earlier than normal for individual and state championships. Also, the number of qualifiers per weight class was increased from eight to 16 wrestlers.

The move from Anderson to Florence was because of the bigger venue. The state girls wrestling championships has been added to same weekend as the boys, creating more need for space.

“We felt like space for participants and spectators were getting a little crowded in Anderson,” Singleton said.

The use of a shot clock in basketball is being expanded to be used in non-region games, if agreed upon between both schools. It can also be used in invitationals, tournaments and showcases like it has been the last two years.

This year’s SCHSL soccer championships will be moved from Irmo to Memorial Stadium in Columbia because of construction at Irmo High School.

The executive committee also passed a motion to let the track and field championships and soccer championships flip spots in the spring sports calendar beginning in 2024-25. This will let the soccer postseason go from two to three weeks for its playoffs and teams will not have to play every other night.

The SCHSL executive committee voted 12-2 to deny American Leadership Academy request to change its attendance zone from River Bluff to White Knoll High School.