NCHSAA overhauls playoff qualifying, seeding process

Polk County senior Braden Miller rumbles around right end during the Wolverines' playoff game at Mount Airy.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors voted Thursday to change how state playoff qualifiers will be determined and seeded, effective immediately.

In the wake of complaints about new procedures used during the fall season, when MaxPreps ratings were used exclusively to determine at-large qualifiers and seed schools, the NCHSAA board voted to make three changes to the playoff seeding process beginning with this winter’s basketball postseason.

Those changes include:

* At-large berths: Once automatic qualifiers from each conference are determined, conference finish will be the first criteria used to determine at-large berths, followed by Adjusted MaxPreps Ranking.

This means that all third-place teams not earning an automatic berth will be used to fill at-large berths, with MaxPreps ratings used to sort those teams and break any ties, followed by fourth-place teams, fifth-place teams and so on.

During the fall, Trask High School finished 8-3 and in third place in the Coastal 8 2A/1A Conference, but didn’t earn a playoff berth due to its low MaxPreps rating.

* Split-conference adjustment: The highest finishing team in its half of a split conference will still earn a playoff berth, but must finish in the top three spots overall in the conference and/or have a winning percentage of .500 or higher in order to be seeded as a top seed. Otherwise, the school will be seeded as an at-large team.

Thus, for example, if Polk County finishes fourth in the Western Highlands Conference in a sport, but ahead of Avery and Mitchell, the Wolverines would only be seeded as a top seed if they had a .500 record or better.

The change was prompted in part by South Caldwell’s football program, who finished 1-10 this season but earned an automatic berth as one of two 4A teams in the Northwestern 4A/3A Conference. As the highest-finishing 4A team of the two schools, the Spartans were seeded as a first-place team and earned a first-round bye and home playoff game.

With the change, South Caldwell would still have qualified, but would have been seeded with the at-large schools.

* Use Adjusted MaxPreps Rankings. The ratings formula used by the NCHSAA during the fall used margin of victory as one of the components of its calculations. Margin of victory will no longer be a part of the ratings.