Sports Editor

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The FHSAA is looking at a plan to use computer-generated power rankings to determine regional seeds.

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted this week to approve a plan to trim the number of state classifications in baseball, softball, volleyball, and basketball from nine to seven.

Boys and girls soccer will go from five to six classes but will share a new playoff qualification system with the other four: regions will be made up of four district champions and four at-large teams, chosen and seeded using MaxPreps computer rankings.

Thanks to the 12-3 Board of Directors vote, the new plan will be used in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school seasons.

While the state has gradually increased the number of classes in those sports over the years as state population has climbed and new schools open, this is the first time the FHSAA has ever trimmed classifications. The rationale is to limit the number of lopsided playoff results.

Football, which introduced a points system in 2017 to qualify wild card teams and seed them and district champions in regional playoffs, will keep its current system with eight classes.

Anticipated school enrollment counts for 2019-20 will soon be tabulated, which will be used to place schools in Class 2A through 7A (the 1A “rural” class populated mostly by Panhandle schools will remain unchanged). The top six classes will have an equal number of teams, from 70-80 in soccer and 80-100 in the other four sports. Thanks to the impact of Tohopekaliga High opening — it swung open in August with over 2,200 students — County Athletic Director Ryan Adams said he expects the GHS programs to move down to Class 5A or 6A, with THS taking their place in 7A (the old 8A), and Celebration moving up.

The plan will also smooth out the size of districts — no more three and four-team districts on one side of town and eight or nine-team ones on the other.

This plan, which keeps district alignments and tournaments but doesn’t require regular-season play among teams, is a far cry from an original plan drawn up over the summer. That plan would have eliminated districts — and using school population to group schools into classes or divisions.

That plan solely used teams’ rolling two-year composite MaxPreps rankings to group them based on prior achievement. It would have created an elite 32-team bracket at the top, and the ability for a school to have teams compete in different divisions based on short-term success.

A majority of athletic directors called for districts and tournaments to remain, citing their importance locally. Then came skepticism of the MaxPreps rankings, how they are computed, how scores are entered and who’s authorized (players, parents, coaches, athletic directors) to do so.

Osceola County Athletic Director Ryan Adams said the original plan and the new one have good points and some things schools will have to work around.

“There’s no forced district travel, which is a benefit. But some teams that play 25 games will have to go fill 18 of the if they want to play that many,” he said. “But this opens teams to be creative with scheduling in order to get that strength of schedule they’re looking for. I’m sure we’ll be dealing with these on an individual basis.”

Adams said that with THS making it an eight-school county, it’s the perfect number to hold Orange Belt Conference championship tournaments in basketball, soccer, baseball and softball.

“I’m excited about it. We’ll work with the coaches on the right time to hold those, but we think it’s more meaningful for the kids to win a tournament, and get tournament-tough for districts, than to just be regular-season champions,” he said.