Florida High School Athletic Association officials stopped by Columbia to provide greater understanding of its new 'competitive balance' proposal to county coaches in a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
While coaches in attendance say some details were clarified, most walked away still feeling skeptical about the drastic changes possibly on the horizon for roughly 700 member schools.
These changes include: eliminating districts and reducing classifications from nine to seven for baseball, boys and girls basketball, softball and girls volleyball.
Enrollment numbers would also be nixed from the criteria and would be replaced by power rankings formulated by (possibly) MaxPreps. FHSAA is also proposing the addition of six divisions, in which schools would be placed based on ranking average over a two-year period. Division I (top 64) and Division II (65-128 teams) (and possibly Division III) would be automatic playoff-bound teams in the latest proposed format.
On Tuesday, officials Frank Beasley and Robbie Linderman were on tap to shed light on issues the FHSAA is dealing with like dwindling attendance numbers in state tournaments – with the new playoff format, they say, being an immediate solution in hopes of making the regular season and playoffs more competitive.
"It's so hard for some people to get outside of their comfort zone," said Beasley, a former athletic director who coached at Columbia for five years (2000-05). "'Those are guaranteed games, this is what we've always done' but on the flip side of that we hear (good things)… (open) scheduling, some coaches love it. The geography of Columbia County is a little different because they're a bigger school and usually pretty good athletically. But again if you create a conference, and add those Gainesville schools, now all of a sudden you have seven, eight teams. You play them twice, you have 14 games."
"It puts the power back into the schools, not us."
Beasley says the biggest motivation of the new system was to create more parity among schools to combat the increase of blowout championship games. County coaches however feel this proposed divisional structure, which includes seeding based on MaxPreps rankings, could be counterproductive when postseason starts.
"Under this format, if you're going to throw the private (school) guys in with the public school guys, it's not going to change," Columbia baseball coach Brian Thomas said. "However many of the schools playing in Fort Myers for a state championship, three-fourths of them – just like this year – are going to be private."
While most county coaches seemed to agree that there's room for a new playoff format, several had mixed reviews regarding the elimination of districts all together across the state.
"They clarified some misconceptions that I had," Columbia athletic director and boys basketball coach Steve Faulkner said. "There's still some parts that I don't like, but I'll say that I like it a little bit more now than I did before the meeting."
Beasley reiterated the freedom of schedule the new format would grant. While district seeding and scheduling would be gone, schools within the Columbia County may consider creating an area conference that could benefit each member as far as rankings go. For Columbia teams, like soccer and volleyball – that have continually struggled in district play – the new system could come as a relief, no longer having to travel to Tallahassee or Ocala for mandatory league matchups.
"Clearly there's some merit in the new proposal," Columbia assistant boys soccer coach Trevor Hickman said. "They helped (clarify) some things like being able to schedule your own district (or conference). Because logistically we don't have 10 other schools in the county to draw from. It's already difficult to get area teams to come over."
Columbia girls soccer assistant coach Caleb Hill is a little more hopeful about the 'competitive balance' format despite objections from other coaches at the school.
"Truthfully, I am a huge fan of this," he said. "I'm glad the FHSAA is willing to look into it and look at the analytics behind it… It's one of those things where whenever you start any type of new system, you're always going to have some growing pains."
The proposal and all its amendments will go to the FHSAA's board of directors in September with votes scheduled to be casted in October.
"We feel like this will grow all the programs, not just the top ones," Beasley said. "We were really worried about the rich getting richer and we felt like we had to do something to help stop that trend."