NCHSAA growing pains include multi-class conferences, state championship venue issues

As the N.C. High School Athletic Association expands from four to eight classifications, beginning in the fall of 2025, commissioner Que Tucker said the group also faces growing pains as it tries to establish a working relationship with state lawmakers.

Tucker, president Chris Blanton and association vice president Stephen Gainey met with the media following a two-day board of directors meeting to discuss the state of the NCHSAA.

Here are some highlights of the discussion.

Final Four basketball back at Joel Coliseum

The NCHSAA has, in recent times, held the majority of its state championship games on college campuses.

In March, it had the basketball regional and championship rounds at Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, all in the same week. This was after 2023 regional games at high schools and some state finals at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh were overcrowded.

The feedback of the Winston-Salem week was overwhelmingly positive, Tucker said, and the NCHSAA board voted to return to the same format next year.

“I just thought that was a defining moment for high school athletics in North Carolina,” Gainey said, “to showcase students and provide them with a great experiences. I was happy all the way around with what I saw.”

The NCHSAA, however, will move from four to eight classes beginning with the 2025-26 school year, and playing the boys’ and girls’ regionals and state finals at one site would be impossible to pull off in one week.

Tucker said she’s already given that some thought.

“We probably can’t do it all (at Joel Coliseum),” Tucker said. “So where would we go? We will look to our college facilities, and we’ve had great relationships with N.C. State, UNC and now Lawrence Joel. We would continue to look to those venues to be able to help us out there.”

Will eight classes cause additional venue concerns?

Tucker said the sheer number of state championships required after the NCHSAA moves to eight classes might make hosting all championship on college campuses difficult. She did acknowledge that some sports may have combined classification championships due to less participation.

“Think about this,” she said. “Where would we play eight championships in softball in the state of North Carolina at the college level, especially with the potential of a three-game series? We would be forced to then look at other venues. It might be like what we had to do coming out of COVID in 2021 when we played state championships in softball at Davie County High School and North Davidson High School. We don’t know, but that’s a possibility.”

Blanton also expressed concern with staffing issues, with the NCHSAA hosting so many championships at multiple venues, as well as paying for venue access.

On Wednesday, the NCHSAA board approved a new revenue sharing plan for playoff tickets — mandated by new rules lawmakers imposed on the association — that Blanton said would leave the association at a $12,000 deficit.

“We are certainly going to do what we need to do and follow the law,” Blanton said, “but the state championships and these venues and things that have gone so well, we’re not getting those venues free of charge. In order to put on a high-level event for student-athletes and their families and their schools, it costs money.”

When will know about new conferences?

The board voted to start a new 8A class with the state’s 32 largest schools and then divide the other seven classes evenly — as best they can.

Tucker said the work of creating new conferences cannot start until October or November when the association gets school attendance numbers from State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction.

The new rules state that schools will be placed into classifications based on enrollment. The NCHSAA is also going to survey its membership to find out if it wants to realign into new conferences every two years, instead of the current four-year model.

To keep teams from having to travel to play like-sized schools, Tucker said many conferences would be comprised of schools of different sizes.

“I think there could be one, two or three classifications in a conference,” Tucker said. “That is to account for geography, especially for the regular-season. The regular-season is very important to the membership because that is how they pay bills. When they have to travel a long distance during the regular-season that’s problematic for them.”

Update on agreement with lawmakers

N.C. lawmakers recently passed a bill that stripped the association of some of its power and required it to enter into a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Catherine Truitt, North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, in order to keepoverseeing high school athletics in the state.

Tucker said a new agreement has not yet been signed, but that the association had shared suggestions with Truitt’s office to possibility include in a new understanding.

“I have to be confident (in getting a new MOU signed),” Tucker said, “because the NCHSAA wants to continue being the administrating organization. If there is no memorandum, then I don’t know that we would be that organization.”

Tucker also said she wasn’t concerned that the NCHSAA might be dealing with a new superintendent after this fall’s election and potentially another new one four years after that.

“This organization has a mission,” she said. “It has a vision. It has core values, and we know what we do. Now whoever sits in the chair in the state superintendent’s office, whoever is sitting on the state board of education, we can’t really control any of that other than we go vote. My concern is that we can get in the (MOU) those things that will help us to fulfill our mission. As long as we can do that, those will be our marching orders.”