The pod system, opposed by most coaches, will stay in place in the 1A and 1AA classifications, an obvious move to avoid costly long-distance travel.
Purnell Swett coach Mark Heil is on the NCHSAA rules committee and met Saturday morning with several other coaches to discuss what needed to be done to alter next year's playoffs.
"The bottom line is what's right is right and you want the best teams to go as long as they can," Heil said. "In the top conferences, teams knock the crap out of each other during the season then turn around and play again early in the playoffs. That's not right. I'm glad the decision was made to end the pods because it really hasn't saved a whole lot of money except at the smaller levels."
Red Springs coach George Coltharp, whose team will move to the 2A classification next season in an expanded Three Rivers Conference that will include South Columbus and Whiteville, likes the idea of battling new challengers the Red Devils haven't faced during the playoffs in a more balanced format.
This season, six teams from the Tri-County Conference were represented in Red Springs' 1AA Mideast eight-team pod. The Red Devils lost to eventual pod champ James Kenan in the third round, a team it eliminated in the second round in 2011. Midway has been the Red Springs' first-round opponent back-to-back years.
Playing familiar opponents, at least in the playoffs, is boring according to Coltharp.
“The general consensus among the guys I talk to is that no one liked it (pod system) much,” Coltharp said. "It takes the luster off the playoffs. Too many times you end up playing someone you’ve already played recently or during the regular season. This year, the Mideast was basically a conference tournament.”
There have been few advocates of what was aimed at being a cost-effective system adopted by the NCHSAA in May 2010. Swett and Lumberton have felt the biggest impact in recent years after being placed in top-heavy, challenging pods.
The Rams were paired with Durham Hillside early in the postseason consecutive years while the Pirates have often been matched up with nearby power Jack Britt. Brill told The Robesonian in November he was tired of being placed with teams the Pirates had already played during the regular season and shared the popular 'conference tournament' mentality.
This season, the 4AA Mideast included three teams from the Southeastern Conference, likely four if Swett would’ve been playoff eligible. Hoke and Pinecrest faced off in the first round a week after playing each other in the regular-season finale. Scotland, the SEC champion, was a high seed in the lower 4A classification.
"I'd like to get beat by somebody besides Hillside for a change," Heil said, whose team lost to the PAC-6 heavyweight in 2009, 2010 and 2011. "It's fine that we spend a little more money traveling to games. That's okay. We would like to play other teams because that's what being in the playoffs is all about."
The new system in place seeds teams Nos. 1 through 16 regardless of travel and should avoid late-season conference rematches in the opening round. Qualification criteria remains the same. Teams that finish third or better in conference receive automatic postseason bids and the remaining spots will be filled from the at-large pool until 64 teams in each classification are included.
The playoff system change won’t affect South Robeson, the county’s smallest school. As a wild-card selection, the Mustangs were the last team selected in the 1A postseason and traveled nearly 200 miles round-trip to top-seeded Albemarle.
"I thought there was a chance we could've played East Columbus in the first round this year, but it didn't happen," South Robeson coach Stephen Roberson said. "I guess it worked out. I don't like the thought of playing a team we've already seen before in the first round, but after that, it doesn't matter. A draw's a draw."