NCHSAA’s Tucker on ticketing issues, Final 4, the future

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker photographed in her office in Chapel Hill

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker photographed in her office in Chapel Hill

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said after there were overcrowding and ticketing issues at regional and championship games throughout the state, the association will take steps to make sure fans have a better experience next season.

Next week, Tucker will attend a meeting with other statewide association directors and plans to discuss with them how they are handling big events.

“We’ll come up with some out-of-the-box thinking,” she said, “and share that with our board and our member schools.”

Before COVID, the NCHSAA was holding its regional championships, or state semifinals, on college campuses. That changed after the pandemic, Tucker said. This year, there was heavy overcrowding and ticket concerns at high school sites for regional semifinals, held at the site of the higher seed. That only got worse for the regional championships, which were held at neutral high school sites.

In Charlotte, for example, tickets for the 4A western regional championship at Providence High School sold out in less than two minutes. Ditto the 4A eastern regional at Lee County High.

At both sites, there were hundreds of fans lined up, many of whom did not get in.

“Since COVID,” Tucker said, “it’s been somewhat different, partially because we gradually opened up, and last year, there was still some hesitancy on the part of our member schools to just totally say, ‘OK, let’s go back to (East Carolina) and let’s go back to Hickory (and Lenoir-Rhyne University).’”

In past years, the NCHSAA held regional semifinals and finals at neutral sites in Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Greenville. Tucker said some coaches had pushed back against that.

“Our coaches had been talking for years, even in the regional concept, where you might have North Mecklenburg playing Myers Park and now they have to come to Greensboro,” Tucker said, “and the coaches said, ‘We ought to be able to play in Charlotte.’ Or if Murphy is playing Hayesville, (they didn’t want to drive) to Winston-Salem when the regionals were at Lawrence Joel Coliseum.”

Tucker said, post-COVID, the NCHSAA decided to try having the regional championships at neutral high school sites.

“That’s what we did last year and it worked,” she said. “We had big crowds last year. Farmville played Kinston and they played at Lee County. It never dawned on us that it would be a big issue at Lee County (this year). We listened to our basketball coaches who suggested that, and we thought the schools might make a little more money, which they did last year and hopefully this year, but this year (the crowds) just exceeded what we thought.”

At last week’s NCHSAA news conference, Tucker apologized to fans who were unable to attend regional finals, saying the association did not release more tickets than there were available seats. That was a big complaint at Lee County. The association did begin an effort to help fans with paid tickets that couldn’t get in to be reimbursed.

“We think something occurred at Lee County that should not have occurred,” Tucker said. “We’re speculating and some of it has to do with people who took screen shots of redeemed tickets and emailed it to others, and due to the long lines, did they flash (the photocopy of the ticket) and come in? And folks were trying to be helpful getting people in, and maybe they weren’t checking carefully enough. We don’t know. That’s one thing. Did somebody put a rock in the door somewhere that wasn’t caught and folks were slipping in?

“We don’t blame Lee County. We think the number (of available seats) they gave us was right, and they did that last year.”

Tucker said no fan with a ticket should’ve been relegated to the parking lot and unable to enter.

“The number we used with Go Fan (the ticketing application) did not exceed capacity to get into Lee County, even if you had stayed in there all day,” she said.

Tucker said Saturday’s state finals at UNC and N.C. State went fairly smoothly. She said one of the biggest crowds in 30 years saw the 4A final between Myers Park and Richmond Senior at UNC. Crowds were heavy all day at N.C. State, which has about 25% of the seating capacity of UNC.

Moving forward, Tucker said the NCHSAA is already thinking about next year, when many of the same teams that attracted big crowds are expected to be strong again. She even said the NCHSAA might consider a format change where the two regional finals are held at the same place.

“The basketball coaches always wanted to do a Final Four and have everybody playing at the same site,” Tucker said. “We’re doing some thinking. We appreciate people reaching out and giving suggestions. Some people have been really passionate about how they gave them to us and we’re doing some fact-gathering ourselves.”

A Final Four format would bring 16 boys and 16 girls teams to a site for semifinals and then the winners would play for a state title. It would require at least two days of play.

“Right now, (we are) thinking of a Final Four, but we’re also thinking the regional semifinals could be an issue,” Tucker said. “We know that on that Tuesday night leading up to the regional finals, we had some pretty big crowds (at the regional semifinals). You don’t want to bring everybody into the middle of the state, but the concept we were trying to use at the regional (finals), using larger high schools, maybe that’s what you have to use for regional semifinals, and then move to larger sites for regional finals. We’re thinking and we’ve learned to think beyond one year and think two or three years out.”

All in all, Tucker said these basketball playoffs have been a big learning experience for the association.

“We learned people do love basketball in this state,” she said. “We learned people have put COVID behind them and aren’t afraid to be in crowds. We have learned our facilities can’t match what we believe to be the size of our crowds and we need to find facilities larger in scope than what we were thinking, and in this state the talent pool is as good or better than it’s been in many, many years, and we have to be prepared for the same kind of interest next year.”

Langston Wertz Jr. is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked at the Observer since 1988. He’s covered everything from Final Fours and NFL to video games and Britney Spears. Wertz — a West Charlotte High and UNC grad — is the rare person who can answer “Charlotte,” when you ask, “What city are you from.”
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