Opinion: Should Florida Move HS Football to Winter?

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Naples Daily News (Florida)


It's Friday night. Are you ready for some football?

Too bad. It's probably going to rain. And lightning. Then stop. And start again.

Welcome to the first half of the Florida high school football season — productivity level: almost none.

The reason, of course, is because the only thing the state may have in greater abundance than a love of football is thunderstorms. Not just any kind, but fierce, lightning-filled, Shakespearean tempests.

Worse, they come and go so quickly — or pass close enough to force everyone inside, at least based on greater modern safety standards — that our teams get more practice filing in and out of locker rooms than they do running routes or improving tackling technique.

Perhaps the best "solution" is so novel, or ignorant, that it belongs on a different planet.

Here it is: Move Florida high school football to the winter. That's probably in a trade with boys basketball or wrestling, although neither is necessarily a must.

OK. You can stop laughing.

Below and in the accompanying materials are all the reasons it makes sense — and why it has about as much chance of happening as, oh, a reality TV star becoming President of the United States.

Oh, wait.

Along with a list of pros (hint: one rhymes with "honey") and cons (how many can you count?), we also asked area football coaches and athletic directors to rank its hypothetical worthiness (all over the map) and chances it ever happens (they'd have used negative numbers if we let them).

George Tomyn, executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association, was nice enough to hear out our proposal, too. He also didn't get far without a polite chuckle.

Money matters

First, though, is understanding why so disruptive an idea might be necessary and all the negative byproducts of the current situation, which are myriad.

Since it's what people secretly value more than safety, let's start with a big one: money.

Chris Patricca, a Lee County School Board member and FHSAA board member, was preparing during last year's storm-battered season to ask athletic directors in her FHSAA district to compile data on how much money is lost because of bad weather.

That would cover lost ticket, concession, parking and booster revenue as well as added costs to reschedule referees, security, staff, busing and more.

Since football revenue effectively props up high school athletic departments much of the year, this is no small issue.

Patricca had those plans before Hurricane Irma struck the state in September, wiping out several weeks of activity while communities were flooded and without electricity.

The data gathering had to be postponed given more pressing matters. But Patricca said she plans on resuming it this season.

"We are losing a ton of money, and it's not fair to the kids," Patricca, a former college athlete whose own children compete athletically, said last year.

She also cited school days that can start for athletes at 5:30 a.m. and sometimes end after midnight because of weather delays.

"Our No. 1 priority is academics, and sports are there to support academics," she said. "If we have kids (in that situation) then we're not serving those kids academically. We've got to find a solution."

Practice impacted, too

Even before Irma forced the postponement of the third, fourth and — for many schools in Southwest Florida — fifth weeks of the regular season last year, most already were playing catch up thanks to Week 1 storms.

The end result was some teams arguably stretching the limits of safety playing three games in nine days. Cape Coral and East Lee even had to do it twice, leaving both playing eight games in just more than five weeks.

Along with salvaging critical revenue, schools played such cramped schedules to help kids get film for recruiters and for teams to have enough games to qualify for the new points-based state playoff system. Kids also just wanted to play football.

But even without Irma, prohibitive weather is routine in much of Florida well into October.

And it's not just games, either.

The word "practice" itself is a misnomer since they get to do so little of it in August and September, unless one wants to count rehearsing plays in sneakers in the cafeteria. That's not just for football but any outdoor sport not played before noon in the fall.

Could delaying the season work?

Starting games earlier Friday wouldn't get away from the customary start of storms in the afternoon. And it would only cut into revenue.

Saturdays are generally out of the question because most officials already are scheduled for Pop Warner, and low pay and worsening harassment make finding more a growing problem.

Rescheduling often is for Monday night. But that comes with the same bad weather. And it wedges late-night finishes and bus rides up against school the next morning.

Often suggested is pushing back the start of the season several weeks. But that would only push football, which already runs longer than any other sport on the FHSAA calendar, further into the start of winter sports.

Besides, with thunderstorms a problem into October — and hurricane season not officially ending until the end of November — how much does delaying the season several weeks really accomplish?

A very out of the box idea

One suggestion, pushing back the start of the high school day — an experiment tried in Lee County in 2002 as part of changed start times in all schools, with contentious, lawsuit-inducing results — would make morning practices more feasible.

But addressing half of the rotten fall weather problem still does nothing for Friday nights.

Since we're saying crazy, Sun-around-the-Earth things anyway, the importance of — and revenue from — football raises the idea of building one or more indoor facilities.

Such facilities could stack numerous games in a day or two and be available for many other uses.

As big as football is, though, even in Florida, the price tag for such facilities would have to make the ongoing war over Lee County's half-cent sales tax proposal feel like it's about pocket change.

Only game in town

Which brings us back to crazy town, party of one.

Can you imagine the revenue for Friday night high school football on beautiful winter nights in Florida, after the college and NFL seasons end?

Tomyn acknowledged that the idea of moving football to the winter does get discussed in committee meetings once more-practical options are covered. But it stops quickly.

"It's not really said in jest," he said. "Other people pipe up: 'How would we ...?' We don't get any further than that."

Tomyn wondered if college coaches might actually like the ability to devote more time to Florida recruits after the New Year once their playing seasons end.

But that is just one possible benefit to an idea that has innumerable downsides.

"I think that it would never happen. That is too big of a change," he said. "We're not a sports car jumping all over the place. We have 800 member schools. It's a huge state. Big bureaucracy's change slower."

Still, if you started from scratch drawing up a high school sports calendar for Florida, you'd start by placing its most-influential sport where it works best.

While that would cause new problems, what we have now isn't working too well, either.

And continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results, as they say, is the definition of insanity.

Follow @NewsPressSeth on Twitter.

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August 19, 2018


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