PREP SPORTS: County coaches not in favor of new FHSAA playoff proposal
Radical changes shook up the playoff format in high school football last season.
Could the rest of team sports be next?
The Florida High School Athletic Association is pitching a new playoff system for the state’s other team sports, with a goal of creating a better competitive balance that will reduce blowouts that have been rampant in state tournaments in recent years. Classifications would be cut from nine to seven for baseball, boys and girls basketball, softball and girls volleyball, with power rankings (possibly from MaxPreps) replacing enrollment numbers as the criteria for dividing schools into each class.
Districts would also be eliminated, with classes replaced by divisions based on the power rankings from the previous two or three seasons (still to be decided). Division I would be composed of the top 64 teams from those ratings regardless of the schools’ size with all 64 teams advancing to the playoffs.
Division II would be made up of teams 65-128 — also all making the playoffs — while the remaining schools down to the current Class 1A would be divided evenly across Divisions 3-6, which would be about 115-130 schools depending on the sport. Division 7 will be reserved for the rural schools, which is currently Class 1A and holds 600 students or less.
Soccer, which was already set to go from five classes to six, would have six divisions. The proposal, if approved, would be for the 2019-20 school year. But the measure so far has been met with mixed reaction, especially in North Florida.
“I probably talked to 15 or 20 coaches about it (Thursday),” Columbia baseball coach Brian Thomas said. “First thing, I think this issue is going to be dead in the water because there are going to be too many vocal coaches, especially the older guys that still have a lot of time left in the game and are very well thought of, that if this change comes about they’re going to walk away and I don’t think the FHSAA wants that based on what they’re saying we’re going to do.”
There’s plenty of concern from coaches and schools over the rating system as well. If the FHSAA rolls with MaxPreps for its rankings, they’ll be using a company based in California that rarely, if ever, sees any of the teams.
That means rankings would be solely based on stats and results that coaches input on the site for their teams. That’s raised several questions for coaches.
“I think what the issue becomes for a lot of guys is, you’re leaving it to a company in California who you send your stats to rank your team in Florida,” Thomas said. “How is that a viable thing? You haven’t seen us play so whom are you gathering your information from? Are you going to have a board of coaches in the state of Florida that’s going to aid you in this? Or are you just going to do this randomly through the computer like they used to with NCAA football where the human factor is completely taken out of it?”
The FHSAA wants to level the playing field across its sports, which saw many lopsided scores in its championship games this past year. Just in boys basketball, six of the nine state championship games were won by double digits this year, including three by 25 points or more.
By lowering the numbers of classifications from nine to seven and pairing schools together via talent level, the FHSAA believes it would accomplish its goal, especially in an era where kids transfer yearly and have multiple options for school.
“I don’t know if I exactly like it,” Columbia boys basketball coach/athletic director Steve Faulkner said. “I think that I agree with their assessment that something needs to be done. I’ve been coaching basketball in the state for almost 18 years now and been to Lakeland (for the state tournament) pretty much every year. It’s gotten bad down there as far as turnout down there, the interest level is down and I think that it’s become too watered down because we have too many classifications so I think something needs to be done.
“I’m not sure if this, in my opinion, is the answer because I think you’re relying on something like MaxPreps, which I don’t know if that’s the thing we want to rely on because I know based on this moment right now there’s still some coaches in the state that don’t put their stuff into MaxPreps like they’re supposed to.”
The FHSAA could still go with a different ratings system if the proposal passes. The organization recently said it might look into different rankings setup or create its own like it did with football.
Football currently uses a points system that factors in wins, losses and strength of schedule. The other sports would do the same if the measure passes.
The past school year saw football use its system for the first time, with Class 5A-8A still holding districts while Class 1A-4A were regions only. That, in the eyes of those in Columbia County, would be a better route to take.
“I really thought they were going to push that style instead of the one they’re pushing for now with divisions,” Fort White athletic director John Wilson said. “But they are now going to another step that I did not perceive to see before. It is mind-boggling to a point that your boys basketball team could be in one division and your girls could be in another division and they would play completely different people. My conjecture is, we’re so used to how big a school you are you end up playing the same type people year in and year out so you know what you’re dealing with.”
Wilson, Faulkner and Thomas were also all in agreement that they would like to see the state separate public schools from private schools, though that idea appears off the table for now. The three also echoed the importance of keeping districts to place some importance on the regular season instead of throwing everybody into the postseason, as would be the case in Divisions I and II.
The proposal is set to go to the FHSAA’s board of directors for discussion in September with a vote scheduled for October.
Faulkner hopes the FHSAA ultimately goes a different route, one where the regular season would still matter.
“I don’t understand why they just don’t go to kind of what football is doing. Something like that to me works,” Faulkner said. “You still have a district and you still play for a district title because to me a district championship means something. There are only a handful of state champions each year. But if a kid plays here for four years and wins a district championship, that’s an important thing.
“This school as a whole has four district titles in boys basketball since 1967 so that’s a special thing for some schools. I know some get blessed and win it every year or every other year but that’s not everybody. I think it kind of diminishes it. Imagine if the NCAA Tournament had no conference champions and that’s essentially what it is. It doesn’t make sense why you would eliminate that. Why wouldn’t you do something to still incorporate that?”
“I’m just not sure this is the solution.”
There have already been a few changes passed for athletics in the state of Florida for next year. For football in Classes 1A-4A, playoff teams per region were increased from four to six teams, with the top two seeds receiving a first-round bye.
In baseball, the one-game-per-week playoff format for regionals was eliminated after receiving criticism from coaches over the past two seasons. That was allowing teams to ride their ace pitcher all the way to the state tournament, where teams then played back-to-back days and were forced to start a kid that hadn’t thrown in a month.
The new schedule will have Class 1A-4A play regional semifinals on a Tuesday and then the regional finals on a Friday. Class 5A-9A will play regional quarterfinals, semifinals and finals on a Wednesday-Saturday-Tuesday schedule.