Sports Editor

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Making for the third change in three years, the Florida High School Athletic Association will again have a new system in place to seed high school football playoff teams and choose half the brackets when the 2019 season kicks off.

The FHSAA’s Board of Directors Monday ratified a recommendation from its football advisory committee by an 11-3 vote to use a Rating Percentage Index (RPI) ranking formula to decide which wild cards earn playoff berth and how to seed the eight teams in each region of Class 5A through 8A. The new system will be in place for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

RPI will be totaled by calculating 35 percent of a team’s winning percentage, 35 percent of their opponent’s winning percent, and 30 percent of their opponent’s opponents. Margin of victory will not be factored into the rankings.

MaxPreps, an online platform used to report scores for multiple sports, will calculate RPI for schools who don’t want to track teams who their opponents played, said Josh Wilson, the publisher of Florida High School Football (www.floridahsfootball.com), a comprehensive site for the state’s football news.

“It’ll be the responsibility of each school to get the correct results posted, if that’s done, this system will take care of a lot of the problems coaches had with the old formula,” he said.

He noted that other states like Iowa and Colorado use much the same system.

This will replace a points system used the last two football seasons, where teams earned points for wins and losses based on their opponent’s winning percentage, this bonus points earned for playing teams that reached the playoffs in the prior two years.

District champions still earn automatic playoff spots and receive the top four regional seeds. All playoff spots in in Classes 4A and below, which have no districts, will be settled by RPI. Osceola only has teams in 6A through 8A in the new district assignments that were announced in November.

But, in a twist, teams began the scheduling process — and made commitments to play other teams — before the RPI was approved. The official contract period for teams to sign with others hasn’t started, Wilson said, so teams may tweak schedules they penciled in over the coming weeks.

Under the old system, scheduling could make or break a team’s playoff hopes, if they didn’t win their district. The bonus points created a “haves and have not” class system; teams would seek playoff teams from prior years who looked to be rebuilding while avoiding up-and-coming teams trying to make the playoffs who’d present a tougher challenge.

Ask Liberty Coach Brandon Pennington about that. His Chargers, who have never made the playoffs, went 8-2 in 2018 but didn’t rack up enough playoff points to get a wild-card berth. Briefly it appeared 6-4 Lake Nona, who Liberty defeated, would get in over Liberty thanks to a system that rewarded the Lions’ games against bigger Orlando schools.

“We’ve scheduled (for the next two years) so if we go 8-2, we won’t be sitting home or hoping to go to a bowl game,” said Pennington, who will play Osceola, Oak Ridge and Lake Brantley among others in out-of-district games.

Wilson said that in a dry run of last year’s standings using next year’s RPI calculations, Liberty would have been in as a No. 6 seed while Lakeland Kathleen, the No. 5 last year who played Harmony in the playoffs, would have been out.

“The old system was too shallow, and that proved it,” Wilson said. “With the RPI method you’ll get a better sense of who’s playing a tougher schedule.”

The FHSAA said its Football Advisory Committee, made up of coaches from each section of the state and a Florida Athletic Coaches Association rep, felt a move to a RPI ranking system was needed to create more accurate rankings for football playoff qualification and seeding.

“They felt the previous ranking system, which consisted of your own winning percentage and your opponents’ winning percentage, was shallow … the committee cited bonus points specifically as creating scheduling havoc.” An FHSAA release said. “A major advantage to the RPI is the transparency that comes along with its accuracy. The components of the formula are known, and its results can be easily replicated. The calculation of the ranking is three layers deep, leading to more accuracy.

Official RPI standings will be published at FHSAA.org every Tuesday at 2 p.m., beginning after Week 6 of the regular season — which will be easy for coaches who admittedly wouldn’t know where to start to do the math themselves. The only math they want to do is counting up district victories.

“RPI will be way too hard to try and keep up with it and see where you stand. Just win your district and go from there,” said Osceola Coach Doug Nichols, whose Kowboys will go for a ninth consecutive district title in 2019.

“It didn’t matter either way, our schedule was set,” St. Cloud Coach Bryan Smart said. “Bottom line is win the district and you’re in and you don’t have to worry about anything else.”