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It’s official: SC high schools’ top athletic classification 5A will split into two

The state’s biggest athletic classification will be split for the next two seasons.

The S.C. High School League’s executive committee voted 12-1 on Tuesday morning to allow Class 5A to be split into two divisions for this realignment that covers the 2024-26 school years.

“It is going to be unique,” SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton said. “It is going to take additional days and time periods to get things done. … Venues will be a challenge, but we will find a way to get it done.”

The split only affects playoffs, meaning 5A will crown two state champions instead of one. Division I will be made up of the classification’s largest schools, with the remaining Class 5A schools making up Division II.

Regions and regular-season play remain unchanged.

Kathy Hipp was the lone person who voted against the split and asked why it needed to happen. The main reason mentioned for the split was size of the top classification, which had more schools than in the past.

“I don’t think the need is there but I think the (realignment) committee did it with the understanding that would have it (the split),” SCHSL executive committee president Jason Warren said. “... I don’t think it was a necessary need but the way it worked out was a good idea.

“It helps the larger classification and smaller classification (in 5A) deal with scheduling. The idea to combine to classes that you can play in region play and then separate for playoffs has been out there and is a bold move and never been done. This is a way of making the bold move and allow us to see if that is something that should be explored in the future for all classes.”

Discussions and meetings about the split have been going on for months and were brought up at last month’s S.C. athletic administrators spring meeting and then at last week’s SCHSL executive committee meeting as TL Hanna athletic director Tommy Bell, Myrtle Beach AD John Cahill and River Bluff principal Jacob Smith made their presentation.

Instead of voting on it last week, the committee decided to have a special meeting so they could have more time to discuss the matter.

The move to split Class 5A was done because 5A was larger than it has been in the past. This also would ease the transition to a new-look classification that grew because of a multiplier, Cahill said at last week’s meeting. Cahill said all 54 schools approved the idea of the split during a meeting in January.

“We think we have created a good system,” Bell said last week.

The state has had five classifications since the 2016-17 season. There were talks about possibly just adding a sixth classification but an amendment would be needed to be added to the constitution to do that so this was the easiest route.

It’s not the first time the state’s top classification has been split before. From 1981-2016, then-class 4A was divided into two classes for football only, with the top 16 teams based on enrollment in the big division and the other teams in the smaller division. This split will be for all sports.

There will be eight regions in 5A. Come playoff time, teams from Region 1-3 would be considered Upper State, and 6-8 would be Lower State. Regions 4-5 would be hybrid regions and have teams in both Upper and Lower states.

Dutch Fork and Blythewood would be in Class 5A Division I Upper State, with Sumter in Lower State. Irmo, Chapin, Sumter, White Knoll, Lugoff-Elgin, West Florence and Westwood would be in Division II Lower State.

The 5A committee voted for Spring Valley, Ridge View, Lexington and River Bluff to rotate between Class 5A Division I Upper State and Lower State. For example, Spring Valley and Ridge View would be Upper State one year and Lower State the next. The same for Lexington and River Bluff. It hasn’t been decided which year the schools would be Upper and which would be Lower.

How playoff brackets will be determined

The 5A plan still has some postseason-related questions to answer for certain sports. For most sports’ playoffs, there will be 12 teams each in Class 5A Division I’s Upper and Lower playoff brackets, and 12 in each of the two 5A Division II brackets.

Automatic qualifiers for the playoffs would be the top three teams from a six-team region, and the top four from a seven- or eight-team region.

Region champions will be seeded first followed by second-, third- and fourth-place finishers. The automatic qualifiers would be seeded using the MaxPreps RPI formula, which North Carolina and other states use. Each team would enter the results of regular-season games into MaxPreps website, and the RPI is calculated based the team’s winning percentage and opponents’ winning percentage. Margin of victory isn’t used in calculating the RPI.

All non-automatic qualifiers would make up the rest of the bracket based on MaxPreps’ RPI standings.

There will be no predetermined home and away teams in the playoff bracket. The highest seed will host throughout. Because of the seeding criteria, region teams could face each other in the first round.

Class 5A regions for 2024-26

Here are the SCHSL’s regions for the upcoming realignment for 2024-26 school years. Schools in bold will be Class 5A Division I and others in Class 5A Division II:

Region 1: Easley, Greenville, Greenwood, Hillcrest, JL Mann, Mauldin, TL Hanna Woodmont

Region 2: Boiling Springs, Dorman, Eastside, Gaffney, Byrnes, Riverside, Spartanburg, Wade Hampton

Region 3: Catawba Ridge, Clover, Fort Mill, Indian Land, Nation Ford, Northwestern, Rock Hill

Region 4: Chapin, Dutch Fork, Irmo, Lexington, River Bluff, White Knoll

Region 5: Blythewood, Lugoff-Elgin, Ridge View, Spring Valley, Sumter, Westwood, West Florence

Region 6: Carolina Forest, Conway, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Socastee, St. James

Region 7: Berkeley, Cane Bay, Goose Creek, Lucy Beckham, Stratford, Wando

Region 8: Ashley Ridge, Fort Dorchester, James Island, Stall, Summerville, West Ashley