It feels like we’ve been having the same debates with the same arguments for about a decade now.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A charter school or parochial school advances far in the …
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It feels like we’ve been having the same debates with the same arguments for about a decade now.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A charter school or parochial school advances far in the playoffs, maybe wins a state championship, and people jump on social media to complain about it. Many of the arguments are ill-informed and not really based in actual facts. I’m not writing this to rehash old arguments of fact check misconceptions on Twitter, though. I’m writing this to offer a solution.
In my opinion, realistic solutions are what has been missing from this debate. Most people will acknowledge that there is an inherent advantage for schools competing without any attendance zones. It’s hard to come up with a real defense that there isn’t. The N.C. High School Athletic Association allows charter and non-boarding parochial schools to join. The number of charter schools in North Carolina has exploded.
Right now, there are 41 charter schools in the NCHSAA with a few more coming on board next year. Forty of the 41 charter schools are in the 1A classification, the other is in the 2A classification. There are four parochial schools -- one in 4A, one in 3A, and two in 1A.
This issue impacts the 1A classification the most. What we would consider a “traditional” 1A public school — which I’m going to call “LEA” schools for the purposes of this — is mostly found in eastern and western North Carolina — not as much in central North Carolina. That is, they are in more rural areas, not large metro areas, and that means their pool of talent is not as deep when compared to the metro areas.
Of the 41 charter schools, 25 are from one of the top 20 counties in North Carolina based on population size. 15 are from the top ten. If you look at the four parochial schools, all four are in the top 11 counties based on population, and three are in the top four. For the purposes of this, we will refer to charter and parochial schools as “non-LEA” schools instead of “non-traditional” schools.
Let’s compare counties for LEA schools. There are 69 LEA schools in the 1A classification right now, including some special situations like Lejeune and Cherokee. Of the 69 LEA schools, there are seven from top 20 counties based on population (compared to 25 charter schools). In fact there are only 26 LEA schools from the top 50 counties based on population. If we look at the other end, there are 20 LEA schools that come from the bottom 20 counties by population.
This is where the inherent advantage comes from for charter and parochial schools, at no fault of their own. They are not breaking rules, the rules just give them an advantage.
The good news is, despite all the back and forth over the last decade, there are some relatively easy, sensible solutions that will be fair to both the LEA and non-LEA schools. This is mine.
The time is now. We are entering the next realignment phase and the NCHSAA Realignment Committee is actively meeting. You probably remember the two failed amendment proposals from January. Passing those would have made this even easier, but there is a workaround.
Stevens: Amendment proposals failed.
Now what? At the 2019 NCHSAA Annual Meeting in Chapel Hill, Commissioner Que Tucker announced the delay of the realignment process so the association, realignment committee, and board of directors could explore expanding to five classes. She said going to a 5A class would require a change to the bylaws, which is one of the two proposals that failed to pass a membership vote. However, until that happened, Tucker said the realignment committee could explore a 4AA classification.
Basically, we’re talking about permanently subdividing a classification, like we do for the football playoffs. In actuality, it’s just one subdivided class, but in practice, it’s a fifth classification. Because the NCHSAA is not prevented from subdividing the classes in the football playoffs, there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t subdivide a class for everything, right?
This is where my proposal picks up.
Focus on the extremes. Right now, we determine classifications based on average daily membership numbers (or ADMs), which is basically the number of students that go to a school.
If you look at the 4A classification, there is a difference of 2,426 students when you compare the largest 4A school to the smallest 4A school. At the 1A level, that number is 752. These two classifications deal with the two extremes -- the largest school (Myers Park at 3,688) and the smallest school (Nantahala at 28). Because of that factor, I propose subdividing the 4A and 1A classifications, essentially creating six classifications.
This will make the differences between the largest and smallest schools less dramatic in every single classification.
Under my plan, the difference at 4AA would be 1,780; at 4A it would be 387; at 1AA it would be 198; and at 1A it would be 454. It also drops substantially at the 3A and 2A classification. Under our current plan, the ADM difference for 3A is 1,060, but under my plan it drops to 498. 2A also sees a drop from 553 to 295. This means schools are playing schools that are more similar to them in size, which depicts the talent pool the school has to pull from.
Multiply — The term “multiplier” has become a dirty term in this debate. In some cases, multipliers are just as unfair to charter and parochial schools as the current system is to the rural, “traditional” 1A school. We’re trying to level the playing field, not shift the disadvantages to different kids.
My plan does involve a multiplier, but it’s a sliding multiplier based on the population of the county in which the school is located. So, the larger the county a non-LEA school calls home, the larger the multiplier.
I played with lots of numbers, here’s where I settled:
Top 15 counties: x2.3
Counties 16-25: x2.2
Counties 26-35: x2.1
Counties 36-45: x2.0
Counties 46-55: x1.9
Counties 56+: x1.8
For example, Raleigh Charter is in Wake County, the second most populated county in North Carolina, and has an ADM of 561. Under this plan, we would multiply that by 2.3 -- giving Raleigh Charter an adjusted ADM of 1,290. However, Bear Grass Charter is from Martin County, the 78th most populated county in the state, so its ADM of 221 will only get multiplied by 1.8, giving it an adjusted ADM of 398.
Nick Stevens’ proposed multipliers for charter, parochial schools
Decide the classes. Now that we have the adjusted ADMs set for the non-LEA schools, we’re ready to determine the classes.
In my plan, the 1A, 1AA, 4A, and 4AA classifications each get 12.5 percent of the membership. The 2A and 3A classifications get 25 percent. This will put 52 schools in 4AA, 53 in 4A, 104 in 3A, 105 in 2A, and 52 each in 1A and 1AA.
When you do this, you get much more balanced results, and I would contend the placement of teams is much more balanced. Remember, in the current plan, 40 of the charter schools are in 1A, one charter school is in 2A. There’s also one parochial school in 4A, one in 3A, and two in 1A.
Under my plan, those numbers change drastically. In 1A, there are now 10 charter schools, while there are nine in 1AA. The 2A classification has the most charter schools at 11. 3A has nine charter schools and 4A has two charter schools. None of the parochial schools are in 1A or 1AA under my plan. There are two parochial schools in 4AA and two in 2A.
I ran the numbers for every classification and you can see the full plan here.
Nick Stevens’ realignment plan to balance the field
Some other things. There are some things this plan is not. It is not based on the success of a team. I’m hesitant about including things like success because it can be misleading. Just because a team or a program is successful doesn’t mean it has an unfair advantage. No one wanted to kick Green Hope out when it won a decades worth of consecutive Wells Fargo Cups, and people aren’t up in arms about Tarboro’s football success at the 1AA level.
I believe the biggest factor when we’re looking at unfair advantages comes down to the population of the community in which the school is located. The more talent there is to pull from, the more talented a team will be. I really believe it is just that simple.
There is something else this plan is not. It is not a way to give charter schools their own playoff bracket. Based on the NCHSAA bylaws, I don’t think the NCHSAA can make that move without a vote of the membership. It would take an amendment to the bylaws. I do believe that if the amendment proposals from earlier this year had passed, the board of directors would have had the ability to make a change like adding a charter school playoff for some sports. But the membership didn’t vote for it. Whether or not the board would have gone for something like that is a different discussion.
I think in the future a charter school playoff could be viable in many sports. As the number of charter schools continues to climb, this will become even more viable. It will take leadership from the membership to get it done though -- and cooperation between charter schools and “traditional” schools. If we did eventually go that direction, charter schools should continue to play in conferences with other NCHSAA members based on school size and geography, and there would be some sports -- think football and lacrosse -- where a separate playoff would not be possible because of the number of charter schools offering those sports.
Until we reach that point -- if we ever reach that point -- I believe this plan is one that gives everyone a fair playing field.
Football can be its own monster, and it’s no different in this plan. Although many charter schools do not play football, some do. For those schools, they should be allowed to compete in football at the classification of their actual ADM. For example, putting Pine Lake Prep (which is currently a 1A school but would move up to a 4A school under my plan) on the same football field as a team from Wake, Durham, or Mecklenburg County would not be safe. That should not be a difficult change to make.
Additionally, because of the size of the 2A and 3A classifications, I recommend we continue to subdivide those playoff brackets for football. So yes, that means we would still have eight state champions. I can hear you groaning from here.
The charter school controversy bubbles up every season when we get to the playoffs. It is true that charter schools win a lot at the 1A classification. It is true that there are inherent advantages that charter and parochial schools have. But as a whole, they’re not breaking rules, and I think that is an important distinction to make. Charter schools are not evil institutions coming to steal all the state championships, they’re following the rules set forth by the NCHSAA and its board of directors. The way we level the playing field is to address the rules, not vilify and lobby to have the charter schools removed.
If you believe in the purpose for high school athletics, the mission of high school athletics, you should want as many students as possible to have the experience of playing sports for their school -- regardless of what kind of school they attend. Outside of the lessons learned like integrity, hard work, teamwork, and perseverance, studies have consistently shown that students who play athletics have better grades, get in less trouble, and miss fewer days of school than their peers who do not participate. High school athletics is also the best dropout prevention program with a near 100 percent graduation rate. Getting more students involved everywhere helps everyone in society.
People who are on social media -- or anywhere else for that matter - demonizing players, coaches, fans, and parents simply because they are involved with athletics at a charter or parochial school are part of the problem we have with sportsmanship today.
Some other possible plans
I also ran some other breakdowns for possible realignment plans with the multipliers I describe above. I don’t like any of these as much as I like the plan I described above though:
15/15/20/20/15/15: This is similar to my plan, but increases the 1A/1AA and 4A/4AA splits to 15 percent and drops the 2A and 3A classes to 20 percent.
20x5: This plan gives us five classes that are evenly divided with 20 percent of the membership in each classification.
20/30/30/20: This plan is the current breakdown that we use for realignment with four classifications, but using the adjusted ADM numbers I calculated above.
25/25/25/25: This is how we did realignment for several years, four evenly divided classes with 25 percent of the membership in each.