Fort White running back Jacquez Pelham runs up the middle against Florida High during the teams’ playoff game on Nov. 10. The Indians lost 28-27. Under the new format, Fort White would have received a bye week (file photo).

FOOTBALL: FHSAA adds teams to playoff format

Classes 1A-4A will now qualify six teams per region starting this fall

Following the first year under its new playoff format, the FHSAA  decided to tweak the brackets in Class 1A-4A on Monday.

The FHSAA Board of Directors unanimously approved the addition of two more playoff teams per region in the four lower classes. Six teams will now make the postseason from each region in Class 1A-4A, with the top two teams in those regions receiving a first-round bye.

The bye week prior to the state championships for Class 1A-4A has been eliminated as result.

The change affects Fort White, which plays in Region 1-3A. The Indians were seeded second this past season and certainly would have benefitted from a rest week following the grind of the regular season, with multiple players playing both sides of the ball. Instead, Fort White was ousted at home by Florida High 28-27.

“I’d rather reward the teams that play well during the regular season and give them that first bye than go right into the playoffs,” Fort White coach Demetric Jackson said. “I like this format here where if you’re the top two teams in your region you get a bye that first week and kind of rest up and recover. It gives you a chance to look at some of the teams that made the playoffs and then hopefully go for a playoff run. I’m in favor of this.”

The rule change was put into action during the first week of January when a football advisory approved the proposal. The FHSAA’s athletic director advisory committee then passed it the following week before Monday’s final approval by the board.

Jackson pointed to health as a major concern for smaller schools later in the season, with some schools in Class 1A-4A playing with 30 players as opposed to some of the bigger schools which sometimes have 60. A bye week before the playoffs will now reward the top teams with a much-needed rest before the biggest games of the season.

“To get that first week with generally only 30-35 players, it gives them a chance to recover and get your mind set for a new season. I think it’s beneficial,” Jackson said.

Other changes officially coming to the postseason for 2018 include increase in the points each team receives for a loss in each record category. Category 1 losses will see an increase from 30 points for a loss to 35 points, while Category 2 will go from 25 points to 30 points, Category 3 from 20 points to 25 points and Category 4 from 15 points to 20 points.

That creates an even greater incentive to play a tougher schedule, something Columbia did this past season. Two of the Tigers’ three losses came against teams in Category 1 (Lee and Madison County).

Losing to a Category 1 school as opposed to a Category 2 could be the difference in seeding for district winners and wild card teams. That didn’t affect the Tigers this season though, because they were the highest seeded wild card, but it possibly could next year.

“I don’t know how much it’ll change for us because even with the loss to Robert E. Lee and Madison, we were still holding the top points number through week 10 before we lost to Bolles in week 11,” Columbia coach Brian Allen said. “But we were going to be the 5-seed no matter what because we lost to Lee because we weren’t a district winner. Now if we had won the district, all the games would have been at Columbia High because we were the top points number. It would’ve affected us as a district champion, that’s the only thing I can see as I look at it.”

The original playoff committee also voted to award bonus points for playing larger schools. But that change will not take affect until the 2019 season to give the AD committee and the board of directors more time to research the plan

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