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Proposed FHSAA plan could eliminate districts, create divisions in 5 sports

Posted on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 at 6:00 am

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer

The Florida High School Athletic Association has placed schools in classifications based on student enrollment — since 1931.

So after almost 90 years, state administrators are taking a long look at how the system can change with the times.

FHSAA officials have presented a plan for making classifications based on rolling two or three-year performance and power rankings — grouping them in six divisions based on recent success rather than on population in girls volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer and baseball.

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Osceola celebrated the Class 9a boys basketball championship in 2017 after beating the 70 largest schools in the state by population. If the FHSAA adopts a new plan, they’ll compete with the most successful 64 teams in the state regardless of school size.

“Is it time for a change?” FHSAA Associate Executive Director for Athletic Services Justin Harrison asked at a presentation of school officials and athletic directors last week. “Is the best way to do this based on classification, or rankings? We’re proud of our staff for coming up with a solution.”

The plan would seek power rankings over multiple seasons, and the teams with the highest 64 averages would be placed in Division 1, regardless of enrollment. The next 64 would be in Division 2, and remaining schools would be evenly divided into Divisions 3-6.

This plan would not affect football, which switched to its own points-based playoff system within its eight population-based classes in 2017, and would not affect the small-school rural divisions, which are Class A (or 1A) in those sports.

Harrison said the state has gone from six to nine classes in the more popular sports in the 10 years he’s been at the FHSAA, which now has 603 member schools from Pensacola to Key West. This is coming up now because the current four-year classification cycle will end following the upcoming 2018-19 year.

“Florida’s a tough shape to set all this up in,” he said. “When we last did this, at least half of the schools filed formal appeals, and that doesn’t even include the informal talks I had nearly every day with people at schools.”

Schools, which could be in different divisions in different sports, would be free to schedule as they wish, as the plan eliminates tradition districts.

Harrison said the plan addresses a few issues, like keeping a level playing field across districts and eliminating lopsided district games schools have to play in the regular season that do neither team any favors. It would also cut down on long regular-season trips in some parts of the state for district games (i.e. Harmony wouldn’t have to go two counties away to play district volleyball champion Hagerty, but other areas have longer trips) and help cut down on state championship blowout games. Playoff rankings would be based on that year’s power rankings, with teams arranged in eight regions.

As teams that haven’t seen success would be infused with the excitement of being able to compete at their level. For instance, Poinciana’s boys basketball team, which won the 2016 Class 5A state championship, could play at a higher level while its less-competitive of late girls basketball team could play at a lower level and get a better shot to compete.

Among the concerns of school attendees were: How long a team would spend in a division (one or two years) before being able to move, the fate of a great team when it loses many seniors the following season, perceived difficulties a weak team would have in scheduling, being ranked 62nd to 64th overall and getting a difficult playoff draw while the 65th team benefits, the ranking system used, and others.

The draft proposal is just that, a draft, for now. It will be a discussion item at a September board meeting, Harrison said, and if it gets enough support would become an agenda item for the Board of Directors to vote on at its Oct. 28 meeting. Even if it gets support, it

That still leaves time for tweaks and adjustments — or if the decision is to continue divided teams among classes, which vary from one or two classes in sports with less participation like boys volleyball, lacrosse and flag football, eight for football and nine for volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball and baseball.