By Ken Jackson
After changing to a points system to help fill its football playoff field, the Florida High School Athletic Association has made an adjustment to that system for 2018.
As recommended by a competition committee, the FHSAA has increased the number of points awarded for losing a game, depending on their final record, by five points.
For example, a school that loses to a “Category 1 team”, which finishes no worse than 8-2 or 8-1, will receive 35 points in 2018 instead of 30. In contrast, beating a “Category 4” team that finishes 3-7 or worse also earns a team 35 points.
Wins over Category 2 (7-3 or 6-4 records) and 3 (5-5 or 4-6) opponents are worth 45 and 40 points, and losses to them are 30 and 25 points.
Also new to the 2018 system, three bonus will be given for playing a team that made the playoffs in one of the past three seasons, or one that finished in the Top 25 of the Maxpreps or USA Today rankings, with a three point maximum available per game.
For the first time in state history, teams were seeded in their regions based on the strength of their schedule, with points awarded based on their opponents’ final record. District champions still make up four of the eight playoff spots per region, but those all-important points decided the other four at-large berths and the regional seeding for playoff matchups.
The plan in 2017 was to simply use total points earned during the season to set the playoff field, but Hurricane Irma canceled school for over a week in some school districts, canceling one or two playing dates. The FHSAA instead used an average of points per originally-scheduled games played. Osceola had games against Winter Haven and Viera, both prior playoff teams, wiped out, and its point total was divided by 8. After rolling through the regular season 9-0 (OHS picked up a game against Rockledge mid-season), the Kowboys earned the district title and the No. 1 seed in Region 2, but only because they defeated Lake Brantley in the season finale, a game that in years past would have meant little to nothing in the grand scheme of things.
This season, Osceola plays eight former playoff teams and will receive 24 bonus points if they are all played. Gateway, St. Cloud and Harmony will get nine bonus points, and Liberty and Celebration six.
By in large, reviews from local coaches last season was that the points system worked in its first year — including from those who were left out because of it.
Gateway, which plays in District 8A-7, and Harmony, in 7A-5, were third place in their 2017 district standings. In prior years, that would have sealed their fate — no playoffs — going into the season finale, and sent their coaches and ADs into seeking a bowl game berth if they’d won five games, or into the offseason. However, their season finales — against teams in the same boat — were critical to their hopes of qualifying for the playoffs under the new plan. The Panthers defeated Mount Dora 33-14 in Week 11, while the Longhorns went to Bradenton Southeast and lost 67-42.
Despite losing and missing out, HHS Coach Don Simon came away impressed with the format.
“I really enjoyed it, even though we didn’t make it in. It kept people interested and more teams in the hunt until the end, and if you were one of those teams it made every game relevant,” he said. “There were more positives than negatives.”
With talk that the FHSAA may set playoff fields in other sports beginning in 2019-20 by ranking points rather than by enrollment-based classification, GHS Coach Marlin Roberts gave a nod to trying something new, even if it was uncomfortable at first.
“I didn’t know what to think of it at first, but what we had been using was a caveman system,” he said. “It gave more teams, more coaches, more players hope at the start and end of the year.”
The state also voted to add two teams to each region in Classes 1A-4A, which saw their districts disappear last year. The top two seeded teams in each region will have a first-round bye (the regional quarterfinals) beginning this year.
The procedure for re-starting games that are interrupted or postponed, usually by weather, was also formally defined. An “interrupted game”, one that is started but delayed before it finishes, must be completed the following day, or on another mutually-agreed on day, with the decision made before both teams depart. Both football coaches and an administrator from each team may also agree to end the game at the score when it’s delayed.
Any game that has two hours of delays (cumulative if more than one) will become an interrupted game and finished the following or agreed-to day.
“Postponed games”, those that do not start, must also be rescheduled like an interrupted game.