There’s something new to Cumberland County high school athletics this season.
For the first time since anyone involved with local sports can remember, most of the teams from the county will be playing in a new 4-A/3-A combination league, the Patriot Athletic Conference.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association tries to avoid putting teams into combination leagues for various reasons, but there are times when the need to preserve natural rivalries and avoid excessive travel force putting schools of different sizes together.
Patty Evers is familiar with the experience. A member of the NCHSAA Board of Directors, she’s the athletic director and girls’ basketball coach at East Bladen High School and has been in a combination league as long as she can remember.
“Some coaches think you should crown a 1-A conference champion and a 2-A conference champion, but we’ve never done that,’’ she said of her school’s 2-A/1-A combination league.
The league title goes to the regular-season winner in sports like football. But for deciding playoff berths, both the top finisher in one class and the top finisher in the other class get No. 1 berths in the postseason.
In the Patriot Athletic, Overhills, South View and Pine Forest are the only 4-A teams, while Westover, Cape Fear, E.E. Smith, Douglas Byrd, Terry Sanford and Gray’s Creek are all 3-A.
With nine teams, the Patriot will get three automatic playoff berths. Two are guaranteed to the top finisher in each class. If the second place team in the overall standings isn’t one of the top classification finishers, it gets the third automatic berth.
The remaining wild card berths will be decided by best overall records against the entire state. But that could get tricky since the MaxPreps state rankings will help to break ties and determine playoff berths.
The formula MaxPreps will use to determine rankings will apparently involve a number of things, and the classification of the schools you are playing will figure into it.
“There’s no perfect way,’’ Evers said. “If you finish fourth in your conference but you’re the first 2-A school, you get the No. 1 seed (for 2-A). I don’t think that’s fair to everybody.’’
With most of the schools in the Patriot Conference being 3-A, the 4-A schools will likely have to contend with their visitors bringing smaller crowds to home games. Evers said that’s a headache for athletic administrators concerned about ticket sales and paying bills.
But it’s the lesser of two evils as the goal of combination leagues, as stated earlier, is to cut down on travel. “I hear more about travel than I hear anything,’’ Evers said. “Most of the talk is geographics.’’
Combination conference or not, Evers said the main concerns for athletes, fans, coaches and school officials stay the same. “You promote as much as you can,’’ she said. “Get your clubs involved and try to get more people to go to your games.’’
As for coaches, Evers said they shouldn’t change anything. “We’ve got to coach and just look past it,’’ she said.
PHOTO: Patty Evers