By: Joel Bryant
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association (henceforth referred to as the NCHSAA) submitted the final proposal for the upcoming conference realignment. If approved by the NCHSAA Board of Directors this week, the new conferences will be put into place starting in the 2017-2018 school year. Conference realignment is a regular occurrence that takes place once every four years. The new conferences will be in effect until 2021, when a new realignment period opens for further adjustments. The last time it happened was in 2013, but no one at Heritage ever noticed because the changes were minimal and had no effect on the current Cap-8. This next realignment, however, will usher in drastic, and perhaps lasting, changes to our local high school sports landscape.
If (when) the realignment is approved, the Cap-8, as well as every conference in the area, will be torn apart and rebuilt into something wholly different from before. In some cases, rivalries will extinguish, and in others, key relationships will become defunct. In all cases, a certain brand of tradition will go down the drain. So, why is this happening?
The reality is that such a shake-up to our respective conferences is necessary. In more ways than one, the changes suck, I agree. But this is necessary suckiness.
In North Carolina high school competition, schools are divided into four “regions” (better described as groups) to reflect overall population. To put it simply, this makes the smallest schools compete against the smallest schools, and the largest schools compete against the largest schools. Of course, it isn’t that simple. These regions do two things: the first is to establish fair competition for state championships by having like-sized schools compete against one another. The second, and while not the focal effect, is to create selections of schools that can easily and fairly be divided up into smaller conferences.
Before the upcoming realignment, the NCHSAA allocated schools to these four regions with an even 25-25-25-25 percent split (meaning the number of schools in the 4A region will equal that of the 1A and so on). In recent years, an issue with this model began to surface. As a result of North Carolina’s blistering population growth, some high schools have become increasingly crowded. This particularly became a problem in more rural areas, where one or two schools grew much larger than the others in their surroundings. These schools had to be placed in a higher region than their neighbors. And thanks to their location, they could not be placed into conferences with like-sized schools. Ultimately, this led to the existence of split conferences, where schools in different classifications were mixed together. Split conferences are not ideal for multiple reasons that I don’t feel like diving into.
Now, the NCHSAA will divide regions into a 20-30-30-20 model. This model reduces the number of split conferences from twelve to nine, as J. Mike Blake pointed out in The News & Observer. The setup may have an added effect of bolstering parity in each classification, with some smaller 4A schools getting moved to the 3A where they have a better chance to compete. Not many schools are actually changing regions, but for whom those are, it may be a welcomed changed.
This is where all of this information relates back to Heritage and the current Cap-8. Four schools to the east of Raleigh are changing regions, and one school to the south is adjusting. These schools are East Wake, Clayton, Harnett Central, West Johnston, and Corinth Holders. East Wake, Clayton, Harnett, and West Johnston, all members of the Greater Neuse River Conference (GNRC), are dropping from 4A to 3A, while Corinth Holders is bumping up from 3A to 4A. The four GNRC schools shifting to 3A left a major gap in the conference. This enabled the NCHSAA to completely deconstruct the Greater Neuse, a conference that is notoriously all over the place geographically.
Now, back to Corinth Holders. For the Pirates, the closest 4A school to them is going to be Knightdale. This is where the NCHSAA started with the realignment in our area. Outside of Knightdale, only three schools in the GNRC will remain in the 4A classification: Garner, Southeast Raleigh, and Rolesville. Southeast Raleigh and Garner are much closer to schools to their north and west, so it wouldn’t make sense to include them in the far east conference with the Knights and Pirates. Rolesville, on the other hand, is a wise addition based purely on geographical location. From here, it was natural to include the three 4A schools right around the block: Heritage, Wake Forest, and Wakefield, separating our three school cluster from the rest of North Raleigh and putting an end to the Cap-8 as we know it.
Here is Heritage’s new conference, listed as “Conference A” by the NCHSAA. I’ve labeled the former Cap-8 schools in bold.
- Corinth Holders
- Wake Forest
Chris polled our followers on the sports account about their opinion of the new conference and the results were bad (not good).
As for the rest of the Cap-8, they have been placed in Conference B, which I’m 99% sure will be named the Cap-7.
Conference B (Cap-7):
- Cardinal Gibbons
- Leesville Road
- Southeast Raleigh
As you can see, the addition of Cardinal Gibbons and Southeast Raleigh help offset the loss of the Forest Three. When our followers were asked if they would miss the Cap-8, they responded overwhelmingly with “yes”.
Clearly, the news has been met with a negative reaction from Heritage Twitter. Let’s look at why the new conference may be bad… and good.
Potentially, the new conference will be a bad thing on a few different fronts. Number one, leaving the Cap-8 means leaving what is considered a top conference in North Carolina. The Cap-8 is equally known for depth of talent as well as for hoisting some of the state’s top programs in each of the major sports — think Wake Forest Football and Millbrook Basketball. In many cases, the level of competition Cap-8 teams face by playing each other helps prepare them for postseason competition.
In some sports, Conference A may end up being just as strong as the old Cap-8. Particularly, it’s going to be a strong conference for football with a power like Wake Forest and decent-to-strong programs everywhere else. However, judging based purely off of current talent level and success, Conference A will be ways behind the Cap-8’s strengths in foundation level “Country Club” sports or even bigger sports like basketball.
Additionally, Conference A is less of a geographical fit for Heritage than the Cap-8 is; whereas now, the Huskies travel within the area of North Raleigh to play their conference foes, the new conference requires trips to the south that are a bit further – and in Corinth Holders’ case, leaving Wake County. According to Yahoo’s maps service, it takes 42 minutes to drive from Heritage High to Corinth without traffic. How long will it take Heritage fans and family to get there on a busy Friday night?
While some of the concerns that I’ve listed above are legitimate, a lot of them can also be seen as good things to the average optimist. As far as the traffic goes, for the most part, traveling to other schools won’t be much of a trip because of our proximity to Wakefield, Wake Forest, and Rolesville. Sure, Knightdale and Corinth Holders are a good distance, but they have to drive it too. Also, a 50 minute trip is nothing in comparison to how long some 1A and 2A schools have to travel.
As far as the competition, those fears are based off of an assumption that things will stay the way they currently are. Yes, if none of the schools got better or worse than they are today, there could be an issue with parity and a lack of preparedness for playoff season. Luckily, these things change because that is the nature of high school sports. At some point, talent streams that some programs benefit from will phase out as real estate patterns change. Likewise, areas with a below-average talent may turn into a prime destination for new families with good genes. For all we know, Conference A can develop into a athletic powerhouse. On the flip side, if the new conference does not become a beacon of competition, it will make it a lot easier to win championships.
Another reason to welcome the change is the promise of creating new and different rivalries with other schools. With an exception of two, Heritage’s rivalries with the Raleigh schools are pretty stale. A couple of the schools over there are little blips on the map that don’t mean anything to us or reflect the culture that’s developing here. The idea of getting a fresh start with schools we don’t really know that well and keeping two key rivalries in place is appealing.
Like it or not, this change had to happen. Corinth Holders is making the jump to 4A and they don’t have an obvious conference fit in the new region. The NCHSAA did what it had to by splitting up the Cap-8 and forming a new conference for schools to the east of Raleigh. It will be weird to not play in the Cap-8, but that doesn’t mean some of those teams can’t end up on Heritage’s non-conference schedule. For someone that is wholly against the change, just be glad that the Cap-8 will still exist for this upcoming school year.