FHSAA Approves New Classification, Playoff Format

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Naples Daily News (Florida)


The Florida High School Athletic Association's newest classification proposal, which reduces the amount of classes in some sports and will partially rely on computer rankings for playoff berths, became official on Monday.

The FHSAA board of directors approved the proposal 12-3 at a meeting in Gainesville. The new classification system will be in effect for the next two school years, 2019-20 and 2020-21.

The new structure effects seven team sports — baseball, softball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, and volleyball — but not football. There will be seven classes in each sport.

The most drastic change is using rankings from high school sports website MaxPreps to determine half the regional playoff berths. Each class will have four regions and four districts per region. The district champions will automatically qualify for regionals, while the remaining four at-large bids will be determined by MaxPreps rankings.

For at least the past 20 years, the district runner-up in those team sports received a regional bid, which no longer will be the case.

Using the rankings from MaxPreps, a private company independent of the FHSAA, was the biggest sticking point for coaches and athletic directors. MaxPreps says its rankings are based on wins and losses, strength of schedule and quality of opponents, but the company does not make its full algorithm public.

"I want to see (the rankings) improved. I want a better understanding," Gulf Coast High School athletic director Matt Kuk said. "I don't feel satisfied with what's there."

Kuk's concern comes from what he saw in boys soccer last season. Gulf Coast won the Class 4A state championship but finished the season fourth in the MaxPreps rankings — one spot behind the team it beat in the state finals.

"The rankings are supposed to get it right in the end, but that was the end," Kuk said. "That's the concern."

A representative from MaxPreps was at Monday's FHSAA board meeting to clarify the ratings system.

According to Lakeland Ledger reporter Roy Fuoco, who attended the meeting, margin of victory was a concern with the rankings. The MaxPreps representative said there is no incentive for running up the score and that MaxPreps can work with the FHSAA to address issues around margin of victory, Fuoco wrote.

The new plan does not require teams to play district opponents during the regular season.

In years past, seedings in the district tournaments were determined by regular-season district records. Now seeding will be determined by MaxPreps rankings.

All districts in each sport will have the same number of teams. To divide them equally, some schools could be in a district with teams several hours away. The FHSAA did not want to require teams to make long road trips to play those district teams during the regular season.

As the only schools in Southwest Florida with more than 2,000 students, Gulf Coast, Riverdale and South Fort Myers likely will be in a larger classification than the rest of the area's public schools. Since their districts will have anywhere from four to six teams depending on the sport, those three schools will be in districts with out-of-area teams.

Evangelical Christian boys basketball coach Scott Guttery served on the state advisory committee. He favored the FHSAA's previous competitive balance proposal that took enrollment out of the equation and relied on placing teams in divisions based on their MaxPreps rankings.

"It's not going to provide the change (the FHSAA) wanted to see," Guttery said of the new structure. "It will not change the lack of attendance and the lopsided victories in the state (basketball) final four."

In addition, he said the new structure will negatively affect Southwest Florida basketball programs, suggesting it will only make it more likely that schools from metro areas like Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville win state crowns as they'll comprise most of the at-large bids.

As for smaller schools like ECS, they'll still be stuck in classifications with powerhouse private schools like Orlando Christian Prep. In 2018, smaller private schools comprised more than half of MaxPreps' top 50 teams in the state.

"It will be harder to win a state title for regular schools who don't recruit and pull kids from all over the world," said Guttery, who won the area's last boys basketball state title with Fort Myers High in 2010.

"I just feel bad that (FHSAA Directors of Athletics) Frank (Beasley) and Ed (Thompson) spent all that time researching other states and what they do and it fell on deaf ears. I thought the state had the chance to do something radical and turn the state on its head. But coaches and ADs didn't want to lose their precious districts. Well, they did anyway because you don't even have to play the teams in your district (during the regular season). The new system is not so much different than what we have."

Not requiring district play gives teams scheduling freedom, particularly teams in big districts.

Seacrest athletic director and baseball coach Mark Marsala likes the move. His volleyball team, which won a Class 2A championship in 2013, has sought to play a tough schedule in recent years but has been limited by having to play as many as 12 district games.

Marsala's baseball team also wants to play stiff competition to prepare for the postseason. However, the Stingrays have had to travel as far as Sarasota for district games in the past.

However, coaches often built rigorous schedules knowing that a regular season loss didn't mean much. A team could go winless in the regular season and still make it to regionals by finishing district champion or runner-up.

Now that MaxPreps rankings decide district seeding and at-large regional berths, teams have to be careful about scheduling too tough and taking on losses.

"You have to come up with a formula for the type of schedule you'd like to play so and the end of the season you're not short-changed when it comes to (a playoff berth)," Marsala said.

Mark Rosenbalm, Collier County Public Schools' coordinator of interscholastic athletics, said the county's seven public high schools will continue to play each other in the regular season. However, the manner in which the Collier County Athletic Conference teams play each other could change. For example, teams might participate in a midseason conference tournament or play each other just once instead of twice.

One of the reasons the Gulf Coast boys soccer team was ranked fourth in its class despite winning a title was because the Sharks had six losses in the regular season. The three teams ahead of Gulf Coast all had three or fewer losses.

Coach Alan Scott likes to face teams in the regular season that test his squad, which can result in losses. With wins and losses presumably coming into rankings, Scott might have to consider who he schedules next season.

"In years past you could almost say our regular-season results didn't matter," Scott said. "Now I'll have to rethink that. ... At the end of the day, it's about getting the kids exposure (to better teams) and getting them prepared for the playoffs."

Lehigh Senior High boys basketball coach Greg Coleman was pleased the FHSAA listened to coaches' and athletic directors' concerns following the unveiling of the previous proposal and sought a compromise that kept district championships and used power points to decide at-large postseason berths.

"I'm happy they're trying something new," Coleman said. "You don't have to play the teams in your district until the tournament. And if you're going by power pointers there are some teams you don't want to play."

Under the previous proposal, Lehigh would have been the only boys basketball team from Southwest Florida playing in Division I against state powerhouses.

At first glance, Coleman said the idea sounded like an effective way to sell his program.

"You can sell that to an extent, but when every year you're losing in the first round of the playoffs against Orlando Christian Prep and other local schools are advancing in lower divisions you're going to lose kids to school choice," Coleman said. 

October 30, 2018
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