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Naples Daily News (Florida)
The Florida High School Athletic Association gave a public presentation Wednesday regarding a new proposal for athletic classifications that has been rumored by high school coaches, administrators and on social media in recent months.
The presentation, which was given at the FHSAA's Compliance Seminar in Daytona Beach, outlined a drastic change to the classification system for seven high school sports, including baseball, softball and basketball.
Though still in the discussion and drafting stages, the proposal would eliminate districts and introduce a power ranking system to designate a program's classification level. If passed, the proposal would take effect for the 2019-20 school year.
"Where we're at with this plan is that it's been a discussion item now for a few months," FHSAA associate executive director Justin Harrison said at the seminar. "The idea is to get it out in front of as many members as often as we can and get feedback and then present it to the Board of Directors as a discussion item at the September board meeting."
Here's what was outlined in Wednesday's presentation:
The Power Ranking System
The draft proposal eliminates the current classification system - which divides schools from Class 1A-9A based on school enrollment - for certain sports. The traditional system has been used with a various number of classifications since 1931, according to the FHSAA.
The new system would create six "divisions" for schools based on power rankings, which would be calculated on a two-year average of the program's success. It would only affect girls volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball and baseball.
The top 64 schools in the system's power rankings would be classified as Division 1 with the next 64 schools in the rankings classified as Division 2.
The remaining schools would be divided in Divisions 3-6. Harrison estimated that between approximately 115-130 schools would be in the lower divisions.
The current proposal would use MaxPreps' power rankings system, which is based on "the huge number of game results" as well as "quality wins against other highly-ranked opponents and strength of schedule" from its database.
To illustrate, the Canterbury baseball team that has won three straight state Class 3A state titles would be in Division 1 because it was ranked No. 26 by MaxPreps this year and No. 16 last year. Canterbury, a school with 270 students in the FHSAA's third-smallest classification, could compete in the playoffs against 9A schools with more than 4,000 students.
"It's exciting in a way, but it's kind of scary at the same time," Canterbury baseball coach and athletic director Frank Turco said. "The concept of competitive balance is a cool concept. I'm just glad we got our state titles under our belt because with this format it's going to be a lot tougher."
A team that struggles could compete in the lowest division no matter its enrollment. For example, Immokalee High School had 1,756 students last year but its girls soccer team won just two games. The Indians, ranked 450th out of 505 teams in the state last season, would be in Division 6 per the MaxPreps rankings.
Under the new power ranking system, districts would be eliminated, freeing schools to create their own schedule based on geography, travel time and the level of its program according to Harrison.
A program's division would also only be related to a specific sport. A school could compete in Division 1 in boys basketball and Division 3 in baseball, for example.
How would playoffs work?
Though districts would be eliminated under the power ranking system, regions would still be an organizing principle for the playoffs.
An eight-region format in each division is the current idea for the proposal, something Harrison said is unavoidable based on the issues the power rankings system is attempting to resolve.
"We would have to do it based on geography," Harrison said. "If a school ranked No. 1 plays a school ranked No. 64, let's say, we can't have Pensacola going to Key West if that's how it shook out for a Tuesday school night."
The top eight teams from each region, 64 total, would make the playoffs in each division. Since Division 1 and 2 only have 64 teams each, all of them would be in the state tournament. The playoff teams would be decided by the power rankings.
The FHSAA instituted a similar postseason format in football last season. The top four classes still had districts, and district champions automatically qualified for the playoffs. The remaining postseason berths were determined by an FHSAA points system weighing wins and losses and strength of schedule.
Currently in the seven sports up for change, the district champs and runners-up make the state tournament.
"Most coaches agree that (the proposed system) is better than what they're doing now," Evangelical Christian School boys basketball coach Scott Guttery said. "It seems like the playoffs have gotten watered down. When (the FHSAA) went to nine classes it hurt them."
While some coaches aren't sure trusting the state tournaments to MaxPreps, a for-profit website, Guttery said he trusts the organization. Entering his second year at ECS after 10 at Fort Myers High, Guttery said he's followed the MaxPreps rankings closely the past few years in anticipation of the FHSAA proposal.
"Their top teams in each region are just about right," said Guttery, who is on the FHSAA basketball advisers committee. "It's worked."
Why make the change?
Harrison identified five common issues schools face under the current classification system that the proposal seeks to eliminate to create a more-level playing field.
At the forefront, Harrison said there are many programs that haven't won district games in several years and often enter the season knowing little will change under the current system. This creates a lack of excitement for the program among students, administrators and the public.
Inevitably, a lack of interest affects attendance and ticket sales at said contests, which Harrison said has been decreasing despite a greater number of classifications.
Lengthy travel also factors into decreased ticket sales as fewer families and friends are willing to make one- and two-hour drives for mid-week district contests, according to Harrison.
Even at the highest level, Harrison expressed concern regarding the number of blowouts in state championship games, an issue which spurred discussion after lopsided state finals in basketball and girls soccer this winter.
Ernie Modugno, returning for his 30th year as athletic director at Naples High School, likes the idea of competitive balance. He wants to see all the details worked out before he approves of the proposal, but Modugno is in favor of grouping teams by talent not student population.
"I don't think enrollment should be (the determining factor)," Modugno said. "It doesn't benefit a very competitive program to play a school that's not so competitive. I don't think it benefits either. In enrollment (classifications) you have that."
Lastly, the proposal would seek to adjust the FHSAA's system to account for a more mobile society as the expansion of high school transfers and recruiting no longer limits students to the neighborhood or small-town schools they grew up with.
"How do we stay in front of that?" Harrison said. "There's magnet programs. There's charter schools. There's private schools, much more than years past.
"... Remember, we've been doing the same thing since 1931. A lot has changed since then."
Some questions and concerns were asked following the presentation regarding the credibility of the MaxPreps rankings.
The MaxPreps website states that it does not poll coaches, writers or fans for its rankings, instead relying on a formula which weighs win-loss record, quality wins and losses, strength of schedule and postseason wins to produce its weekly rankings.
The site does admit that incomplete or inaccurate information can affect the accuracy of its rankings, though correction requests are available and encouraged.
Harrison said the FHSAA is "not hooked on" using the MaxPreps system if enough member schools express concern, however.
"We could set up some other system if we believe that one is incorrect," Harrison said. "We want to make sure that (the rankings) are an accurate portrayal."
Additionally, some schools raised concerns regarding their ability to schedule opponents if their struggling programs competed in lower divisions.
It's a similar concern to one raised by many small and rural schools when the FHSAA implemented its power point rankings for the football state playoffs two years ago. Some teams without guaranteed district games struggled to find opponents.
Seacrest baseball coach and athletic director Mark Marsala likes the power ranking proposal because of the scheduling freedom it offers.
Because the Stingrays are one of few 2A baseball programs in the area, Seacrest is in a district with teams from Sarasota and Port Charlotte. If districts are eliminated the Stingrays, who have been to the state finals twice in the past six seasons, can stay closer to home while playing stronger opponents to earn more points in the power rankings.
"I think people look at the size of schools playing each other and get scared," Marsala, a former FHSAA board president, said of the potential enrollment disparities in divisions. "But that's only in the playoffs. In the regular season you can play whoever you want.
"(The proposal) seems radical because it's never been done in this state, but the times are changing. I think this can do some good things."
Harrison said that the FHSAA "didn't have too many issues with that at all" during its first season and would expect a similar experience under this proposal.
"We feel like you will find games," Harrison said. "People in your area will play you because everybody is in the same boat. Everybody is trying to find games."
What's the timeline?
Should discussions remain positive and move in a streamlined fashion, the FHSAA would bring the proposal up for discussion by the Board of Directors in September.
From there, the proposal would be voted on at the board's meeting on Oct. 28-29. If approved, the proposal would take effect in the 2019-20 school year.
FHSAA proposal: Fast facts
Sports: Girls volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball
Classification: Six divisions based on power ranking, not school enrollment
Timeline: 2019-2020 school year, if passed
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