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High school football playoffs may get complicated with postponements, cancellations

·3 min read

Get ready for some Tuesday night high school football.

And make sure you’ve got some batteries in your calculator. Decimal points may help decide conference championships and playoff berths this season.

For many high schools teams across the state, this is the opening weekend of conference play — and in North Carolina, conference won-loss records determine postseason playoff berths.

But persistent problems with COVID-19 cases, along with quarantining of players and coaches due to contact tracing, led to a steady drumbeat of game postponements and cancellations through the first four weeks of the season.

When it’s non-conference games being canceled, there is little impact on playoff berths.

But with conference play beginning, it’s a different story.

There are at least three conference games postponed this week — West Cabarrus at South Iredell, in the Greater Metro 4 4A, Pine Lake Prep at Mountain Island Charter, and Maiden at East Burke in the Catawba Valley 2A.

Many college conferences have decided that if a team cannot play due to COVID-related reasons, that team will forfeit the game.

North Carolina’s high schools apparently are taking a different route.

What NC high schools are doing

A check with area athletics directors shows that such games will be ruled a no-contest.

That means some teams could wind up playing fewer games than other schools in their conferences. If so, won-loss percentages will determine playoff positions.

“Teams must complete 70 percent of their games to be considered for conference championship and playoff spots in most of our sports,” says Jay Niessner, head soccer coach at Central Academy in Monroe and co-secretary of the Rocky River 2A-3A Conference.

But, Niessner added, the conference’s executive board could vote to alter that requirement.

The first choice, nearly all athletics directors agreed, is to try and reschedule games.

There have been a few cases where both teams involved had the same open date later in the season, or were able to shuffle non-conference games to create an opening. As the season progresses, however, that possibility will become more difficult.

As Independence High athletics director Elijah Ashley says, “We look to reschedule, but sometimes it is difficult to do so.”

Tuesday night lights

That’s where the Tuesday night games come in.

Jay Keener, athletics director at Lake Norman High, said the Greater Metro 4A Conference decided last week to reschedule games for Tuesday nights. The West Cabarrus-South Iredell contest is now set for Oct. 5, a Tuesday evening. West Cabarrus also has games scheduled for Oct. 1 and 8, so the Wolverines will play three times in eight days.

“Our goal is to play the games that have been scheduled, as best we can,” Keener said. He said rescheduling games is tough because there are “too many moving pieces for football games.”

But Tuesday nights will be the fall-back option for at least his conference.

Other conferences also say they will work hard to reschedule games. If Tuesday night won’t work, Keener said, the game will be ruled a no-contest.

“We fully plan on making up games,” says Matt Steger, athletics director at Mountain Island Charter, a member of the Catawba Shores 1A-2A Conference.

In the end, at least some games are likely to be ruled no-contests. Athletic officials of the South Meck 4A, Southwestern 4A, Queen City 3A-4A, Southern Carolina 4A, Northwestern 3A-4A, Big South 3A, South Piedmont 3A, Western Foothills 3A, Rocky River 2A-3A, Catawba Valley 2A, South Piedmont 1A-2A and Catawba Shores 1A-2A confirmed to The Observer that their conferences will not rule games as forfeits.

Of course, this presents some interesting questions.

Some schools, for instance, might benefit by having COVID wipe out games against the conference’s stronger teams. But, athletics officials say, it’s the best that can be done in a season where scheduling is a moving target.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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