Copyright 2018 The Florida Times-Union
Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville)
Nease girls basketball head coach Sherri Anthony likes some of what she's hearing about the Florida High School Athletic Association's reclassification plan.
But she's concerned about rating systems. She's concerned about travel costs. And she's concerned about what her team's schedule might look like if the association moves forward into a new world without districts.
"We have to prove [our strength] through a season right now," Anthony said. "But if [opponents] knew I went in there right away as one of those top [division] teams, which I would probably be this coming year, I don't know who I would get to schedule in our area. The travel would probably take me to the Panhandle and South Florida all season."
On Wednesday, the FHSAA heard those concerns from Anthony and other coaches at the athletic directors' advisory committee in Gainesville.
After nearly three hours of debate, the proposal's forecast: still partly cloudy.
The FHSAA introduced several tweaks to its prior proposal, including a 32-team elite division and the possible end to regional playoff pairings in seven sports, at the morning meeting before a crowd of athletic directors and coaches around the state.
The committee did not hold a formal vote and members' opinions varied widely on the plan, which would designate a new basis for classification -- the rating system of California-based national high school sports website MaxPreps, rather than enrollment -- in boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball and girls volleyball.
Football, which underwent a transformation of its own in 2017 to implement a point system to determine playoff qualifiers rather than the old two-per-district system, would remain unaffected. For most other team sports, sweeping changes would arrive for the 2019-20 season.
• In a revision from prior versions, the top 32 teams in each sport would make up the top division. The next 64 would form the second division, the 64 teams after that form the third division and the remainder would be divided equally among the divisions four through six.
Earlier versions called for 64 teams in both the first and second divisions. Justin Harrison, the FHSAA associate executive director for athletic services, said that adjustment was made based on feedback from schools.
The rural division, the current Class 1A, would remain intact and would serve in effect as a seventh division.
• All teams in each of the top divisions would qualify for the postseason, while the top 64 in each of the other divisions would also advance to knockout rounds. However, their seeding arrangement for the playoffs remains to be determined.
Original plans called for eight regions per division, but the FHSAA is considering four, two, or even none. In the last option, a school from Jacksonville or even Pensacola could theoretically face a first-round playoff trip as far away as Key West, a scenario that isn't possible currently.
Harrison said the possible end of regions was prompted by concerns that too many powerful teams could be grouped into a single region, resulting in the large-scale early elimination of a division's contenders.
• One of the most contentious ideas would eliminate districts in those seven sports, and district tournaments with them. Instead, the MaxPreps ratings would determine playoff seedings and, in the lower divisions, playoff qualifiers.
That step drew the most criticism from coaches, several of whom felt abolishing district tournaments was a step in the wrong direction.
"A lot of years that I've coached, if the kids don't have [a tournament] to play for in their mind, it's just another game," said Anthony, a finalist for coach of the year honors this summer from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.
At least several committee members appeared to echo her concerns.
Lecanto athletic director Ron Allan, representative for FHSAA Section 2, felt the plan would accelerate transfers of talent from weaker to stronger high schools while choking out competition in the lowest divisions.
"What luster is there in being the best of the worst?" Allan said.
Hialeah American athletic director Marcus Gabriel pointed to problems with incorrect entries in the MaxPreps system, which could distort the power rankings. Although the FHSAA has said it will work to rectify errors, some still persist.
An FHSAA representative said schools would be able to double-check MaxPreps records twice per season.
"MaxPreps makes me a little nervous ... I don't know how that would be regulated, because I know a lot of teams we play against don't use it at all," Anthony said.
The FHSAA's Harrison has promoted the plan as a means to level the playing field, particularly after a rash of state tournament blowouts in the 2017-18 season, and bring more excitement to high school sports.
Lyle Livengood, athletic director at West Port in Ocala, supported the plan, saying it would overcome imbalances in the current enrollment-based system.
"When we talk about teams not having a chance because of their power ranking [in the proposed system], that's happening now with districts," he said.
The 15-member committee includes seven from public schools and seven from private schools, with the 15th member -- Jody Phillips of Marion County Public Schools -- representing the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. Cam Harrison, athletic director of Fernandina Beach Middle School, is the only Northeast Florida member on the panel.
Although the committee's view is not binding, its opinion traditionally carries significant weight for the FHSAA board of directors.
That board next meets Sept. 24, ahead of a potential vote on Oct. 29. After the concerns expressed by some committee members, it's possible the project, already tweaked several times, may undergo further revision before it reaches the board.
Several athletic directors on the committee suggested meshing both enrollment and MaxPreps rankings in some form of hybrid system. Others encouraged further study before committing to placing enrollment-based classification on the chopping block.
"We need to go at it slower, we need to analyze those rankings for a year or two and come up with a plan that we can all live with," said Lake Brantley athletic director Jerri Kelly, representing the Florida Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. "I'm not sure I'm ready to abandon everything at this point. There's a reason it's been around since 1931."
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