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FHSAA Approves Sweeping Changes; Baseball Coaches React

The Florida High School Athletic Association has held meetings and discussions for months regarding revamping their regular season and playoff structure for five sports. One of the biggest sports affected is baseball, and on Monday, the baseball community learned what the next two years will look like.

Following in the steps of the NCAA, which uses a rankings system to help determine who plays for national championships in football, the FHSAA Board of Directors voted 12-3 on Monday, in favor of a revamped system.

The system that will be put in place for the 2019-20 season, and will run for two years, will reduce the number of classifications from nine to seven. The plan will also eliminate regular season district play, and will introduce for the first time, a ranking system, by MaxPreps, to determine half of the playoff field.

Teams will be allowed for the first time, to fully create their schedules, eliminating mandatory district games that many coaches felt created bad matchups between top and lower tier teams. Once the season ends, all teams will participate in a district tournament, with the seedings being determined from MaxPreps’ rankings.

The districts will still be determined by enrollment size, but the new plan calls for all districts to have the same amount of teams. That eliminates regions where some teams play in an eight-team district, while others come from a four-team district tournament.

The new system, which is a scaled back version of the original proposal from the FHSAA, is being met with mixed reviews, but the common theme from coaches is a willingness to let the system run for a couple years before making any judgments.

“Today was proof that the democratic governance structure the Florida High School Athletic Associationoperates under is working efficiently and effectively,” said FHSAA Spokesperson Kyle Niblett. “The FHSAA is a member-driven association, and today’s vote is the result of our board of directors and staff members listening to our 791 member schools the last four months. We believe the new classification and playoff changes are a step in the right direction and will help maintain a level playing field for all FHSAA student-athletes.”

The biggest complaint from coaches and athletic directors over recent months, and after the vote came down Monday, has to do with the MaxPreps ranking system. The system, according to many, is not transparent enough. On Monday, a MaxPreps representative, Gerry Valerio, was on hand to answer questions, but a clear picture could not be painted on how the ranking system is created, as Valerio could not offer details due to the proprietary nature of the system.

Here is a look at the Final Top-20 Rankings for the 2017-18 season for baseball from HSBN and MaxPreps.

Final HSBN 2018-19 Rankings

Final MaxPreps 2018-19 Rankings

As news of the new system spread Monday, HSBN received feedback from baseball coaches around the state. Here is what they had to say regarding the new plan.

“It’s a much better alternative than the first proposal. We still have classification based on enrollment. We still have Districts and District Championships where everyone has a chance at the end of the year which I would guess most coaches would want.

The one wildcard would be how MaxPreps plays in. Certainly in different sports there might be better alternatives for rankings, but from the looks of the contract with MaxPreps, that won’t matter.

It will be interesting to see how realistic the rankings are in each sport and how they affect each teams destiny after 4 months of hard work. I also think coaches will have to get a feel for scheduling. I mean if there are 8-9 teams in a district, I would think most districts would vote to play at least once so you can have a head to head meeting play into the rankings. Then again, maybe not depending on travel and strength of teams in districts. Overall not thrilled with Max Preps being a part of the equation, especially in Baseball where so many variables play into each game, but I am much more at ease with this new plan than the original proposal.” – Matt Cleveland, Hagerty

“Only time will tell. Seems to be working in football. I am concerned with scheduling 25 games with no required district contests. We are potentially increasing travel just to improve our rank. Some schools have a conference schedule they must play and those schools may not be in the same classification. Could help some schools and hinder others. Adjust and move forward.” Scott Birchler, Osceola

“We’ve had a system for years which I haven’t had much problem with. We made it so far and eventually got our butt kicked by a better team. Seemed like a solid system. Not much to complain about. I also wasn’t complaining about my beeper when the Nextels came out, or complaining about push to talk when cell phones came out. So let’s see how it goes for a couple years. The best will still be in position to succeed.
Let’s just hope the rest will remain in a position to continue to compete. Most of what comes out of Gainesville has a rural, private school, North of interstate 4 rationale behind it. Two years isn’t too much to ask and gives plenty of time if large, public, urban districts want to make their own plans after that.” – Scott Riddle, Wellington

“I’m not a big fan of the new structure and relying on MaxPreps rankings. It’s especially disappointing that there will be no more required District games during the regular season. To me, that’s such a big part of high school sports, the big District Rivalry game with so much meaning and importance. It’s also very unfortunate for those schools that traditionally aren’t strong in a particular sport. Teams will not want to schedule those other “down” schools because it doesn’t help them with some arbitrary ranking and points system…just imagine a team not even playing for the District title advancing over a school that loses in the District Championship game because of a higher MaxPreps ranking.” Nick Franco, Santaluces

“I believe the FHSAA did a very good job of spending time listening to its membership throughout the state to come up with the best possible classification system. With a such a large and geographically challenging state it is impossible to put system together that is perfect for all. This system addresses some of the concerns member schools had in regards to number of classifications, diluted playoff games, schools bound to district schedule, and inequity in number of teams in various classifications and districts.” – Ryan Smith, Benjamin

“I really don’t care which playoff system they choose and all. It’s baseball. The new way (back to the old way from years past) does make it where you have to rely on more guys to step up. But at the end of the day, the team has to play as one and each guy believe in each other. Players need to do what they can do, and not try to do too much.” Andy Mook, Jupiter

“This structure is obviously better than the first proposal, but I still don’t understand or support giving MaxPreps the power of being the governing body for the rankings!” – Troy Cameron, St. Thomas

“I like it from the competitive standpoint however it takes away from the High School experience and district rivalry.” – Armando Sierra, Sagemont

“I like that the FHSAA is trying to make some changes. However, if their goal was to create a more competitive balance than I think they struck out in my opinion. The only true way in my opinion to have a competitive balance is to have private and charter schools be in a league and public schools be in a league. A lot of other states do that and it works. I also don’t like that the FHSAA is not mandating that district opponents have to play during the regular season to determine the playoff seeding. Leaving the seeding to a computer just doesn’t seem like real baseball and teams don’t actually settle it on the field.” – Joe Franco, Coral Glades

“On a statewide level I think it’s a step in the right direction. We have needed to level the districts for a long time. Another good point is that it frees up the schedule for the teams to play against the best competition. I’m a little skeptical of the MaxPreps component, but hopefully it will match up the best teams in the regional rounds.” – Howard Stein, West Broward

“Only time will tell if this format works. I for one am wondering myself.” – Jimmy Nocera, Naples

“The scary thing about this is the uncertainty of what MaxPreps will decide in their power rankings. Making a schedule will be tough for smaller schools because what should the strategy be: play bigger schools and hope for a high ranking by MaxPreps or keep our schedule to pile up the wins. The rankings are uncertain.” – Greg Mulhollen, Cardinal Mooney

“The power ranking in the state seems to be biased towards certain areas of the state. Areas have to be given the same opportunity as other parts of the state. Teams beat a team from another area of the state and the power ranking doesn’t correspond to the match ups.” – Bob Pringle, Riverdale

“My worries on the new classifications proposed by the FHSAA are that I can see some coaches getting really upset when another program is running up the score just so they can have their ranking go up. My other concern is with MaxPreps deciding playoff seeding on computer numbers. They have never had anyone on the ground here in South Florida, they really do not know any of our programs like HSBN does.” – Paul Barrios, Dr. Krop

“I think the new change is great. It’s going to be fun and it gives us more of a chance to plan and strategize in our quest to attain our goal of a state title in the FHSAA. With that being said, I feel like the can of worms we will be opening up in terms of the subjectivity involved. It will bring a ton of issues to the entire process.” – Angel Herrera, Ferguson

“I believe there are pros and cons to the new structure, but overall, it will probably turn out to be a good change. I like staying with enrollment numbers for classification and that they have trimmed down the number of classifications above “Rural” to six rather than the current eight. I believe the most positive change is the fact that districts will all have the same number of teams; the inequity of the districts in our class (7A) over the past four years in Region 4 was ridiculous.

I believe there is a major risk in ranking teams for seeding purposes, as is the structure with the new format, for the District tournament, especially when nobody knows the formula or algorithm being used for such rankings. I am not sure what the purpose of this change really was or how it in any way has a positive effect on the playoffs and equity. Perhaps this will become more clear after the first year.

The fact that only district champs automatically advance is a good move, allowing a situation where more than two teams from a particular district could advance if one particular district were a very strong one.” – Jerry Albert

“I think the idea of keeping districts is the right way to do it, as neighborhood rivalries are great for high school baseball.” – Rich Benevides, Keys Gate Charter

“The FHSAA’s revised format will foster parity and provide playoff opportunities and goals for baseball programs like Doctors Charter which strive for competitive consistency. It will also expand competition between schools who would not otherwise compete against each other.” – Paul Calli, Doctors Charter

“I really like this format as it properly seeds teams. It makes for a great “tournament” at the end of the season. It gives multiple teams an opportunity to be in, that deserve to be in, the playoffs. Our district routinely has three teams in the top 10-15 in our class, but only two advance. This also hopefully puts the two best teams meeting in the state championship game, not the semi-finals.” – Chad Crosby, George Jenkins

“I’m not sure how I feel about the new playoff format. I do like having an even number of teams in each district. I like that they kept the district tournaments. I’m even fine with having less classifications. That should really help increase the level of competition. I’m not a fan of MaxPreps being used for seeding with regards to district seeding or regional seeding mainly because no one knows how they calculate their rankings.” – Miguel Melendez, Tampa Jesuit

“Overall, the new system is a step in the right direction for our sport. Less classifications and the use of rankings should make the playoffs more exciting but one concern would be not finding enough games to fill our schedule. We play in a county (Hillsborough) that does not allow their public schools to play private schools, and if schools don’t have to play their district opponents in the regular season per the FHSAA, some schools may struggle to find 25 games.” – Richie Warren, Berkeley Prep

“I am actually pretty excited about the new playoff structure. Under the new playoff format we would have been a playoff team the last two years in a row. I know the amount of time we put in the during summer months, fall months and during the spring. Our players/coaches bust their tails year round, so I am excited to know we have a fighting chance now to make the playoffs. Sarasota, Manatee and Lakewood Ranch are powerhouse programs. I know our football program has benefited from a new playoff format.” – Richard Glass, Palmetto

“I think it will be enjoyable to watch, schools that are in districts don’t have to play each other and the seedings will be done by rankings. Expect to see some big games during the season so schools can up there rankings and expect some upsets in the district tournaments. The schools that are in a district where they might not be able to compete with the other schools will have the option to make their own schedule that best fits their school and program.” – Dan Talbot, Winter Haven

“I like the move. I think we needed to mix it up some, it had gotten a bit stagnant. My only concerns is with the MaxPreps rankings. There will obviously be some bumps in the road, but our goal as coaches and AD’s, should be to display a better product come playoff time. The reduction of classes brings more competition into each classification. We shall see, but change is not always bad.” – Jeff Swymer, Bishop McLaughlin

“Playoffs should be decided on the field of play not by a ranking. Last year, my 21st year coaching high school baseball, I had a young team that came into the district tournament as the #5 seed and a sub 0.500 record. We knocked off the #4 seed and the #1 seed and lost in the district championship. We were rewarded by going to the playoffs as the district runner-up. Under the new system we would not of made the playoffs and the #1 seed team that we beat would most likely get in. Not a fan of the new system.” – Stefan Futch, Osceola

“I think the new proposal is good. It will make the regular season games more important. In baseball, maybe in the near future we might consider a two out of three system like Georgia has. At least for the regional finals.” Mike Posey, North Florida Christian

“I’m not really sure how I feel about the new playoff structure. I think it’s going to be really interesting how teams handle building their schedule now that nobody has to play their district opponents until the end of the year district tournament.

I think coaches are going to be tasked with being a little more strategic in their scheduling. I also think it puts an awful lot of faith in MaxPreps and their rankings. Time will tell. Regardless, quality teams are going to have to beat other quality teams and consistently play good ball in order to get where everyone wants to be.” Ryan Lanpher, Choctawhatchee

“I think I like it. I didn’t like the old format where the final two teams in the district tournament autromatically qualified. It will be a better playoff system if the entire season is taken into consideration. I don’t mind MaxPreps being involved. I haven’t seen any teams that were wildly out of place in the last two seasons in their rankings.

The even size of districts will be an improvement as well…I’m sure there will be problems that will spring up, but overall, I’m pleased. It is significantly more appealing than the original proposal of divisions based on previous years’ successes.” – Kevin Ricks, Gulf Breeze

“I’m not a fan of the change, preferred things the way they were. You form rivalries and relationships with teams and coaches within districts over time and this takes that away.” – Ryan Abrams, Mount Dora Christian

“The new playoff structure that was approved by the FHSAA should work well. It will allow teams to play quality opponents instead of same old district teams. Winning and having a quality schedule will play a role in seeding which I believe is healthy for our sport. For South Lake, it doesn’t change anything for us. We will continue doing what we need to, to be a successful program.” – Eric Leitner, South Fork

“Personally, I love it for a lot of reasons. First being I get to decide my schedule and don’t haveX number of games dictated by size of school. The second thing I think it does is open up the top teams to play more marquee games while allowing the middle/bottom teams to schedule themselves into some winnable games, so they can build momentum.” – Jason Smith, Englewood

“I believe that the new structure is a good hybrid of the original structure and the proposed updated format. We will still have issues with any system, but this seems to be a decent combination.” – Thomas Stanton, Ponte Vedra

“I appreciate the fact that the FHSAA listened to their member schools and made some adjustments to the original proposal. I like that they have made district tournaments a part of the playoff format.” – Kurt Dugan, Christ’s Church Academy

“I feel the average and below average programs will be struggling to get regular season games as the proposal has no benefit for other schools to play them.” – Jay Burton, Mainland

“I will certainly be eager to see how this format works out after we have experienced this playoff format for a few years. I believe that I will miss those district rivalries that made district play exciting and challenging because you often played those teams three times in a season. Most coaches I have spoken with do have a concern with MaxPreps rankings. There seems to be an element of the unknown in play here.

Scheduling might also be a challenge with no district play required. You have to find a balance with strength of schedule and travel. The bottom line is that the new format will be in play following this season. I think we all will have a better idea about it after experiencing it for a few seasons.” – Tom Dooley, Melbourne Central Catholic

“I like the newer version of the proposal better than the original version. Although we don’t have to play regular season district contests we still have a district tournament where teams can win their way into the state playoffs on the field. Half of the state playoff field will get to win their way in. The other half will be determined by MaxPreps, and unless they become more transparent, that could create some problems.” – Greg Claybourne, Rockledge

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