Plan to shake up Florida high school football to be voted on next month

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Major changes, possibly the biggest ever for high school football in the state, could be on the way.

The Florida High School Athletic Association is considering a major makeover for the sport, which will include regular season changes and statewide playoffs in what could be the biggest shift in years.

The seismic change – taking the eight largest counties in the state, including Duval County, and putting them in a metro division with four classifications. The remaining 59 Florida counties would be divided into suburban and rural areas and divided into five classes.

That would mean nine state champions and a fairer playing field, say coaches behind the plan. The football committee voted 9-0 earlier this month to proceed with the suburban/subway overhaul. On Wednesday, the athletic director’s advisory committee had seven votes not to support the proposal and eight to support it.

Power now rests with the board of directors. They will meet on February 27-28, when the football overhaul will be voted on.

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Radical? Too much too early? Not enough? Data from various committees in this process – which has been discussed for more than a year – indicate a desire for change. In the current format, programs for private and metro areas dominate year after year. With state laws open and transfers booming like never before, one way to level the playing field and ultimately get the best games in the postseason is to consider moving the norm.

“My belief is that there is a super-majority in the state of Florida who believe that classifications need to change,” said John Sgromolo, Clay County’s Coordinator of District Athletics and also a member of the AD Advisory Board. “The devil is a bit in the details of what that should look like. There are differing opinions in the state of Florida as to how this is going to unfold.”

Wednesday also got the go-ahead: The vote to replace the football Ratings Percentage Index metric with the FHSAA power rankings, a system used by the other major team sports to determine playoff qualifiers.

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Teams quickly figured out how to make the most of the RPI system, which has been in effect since 2019. A weak schedule can lead to eight-, nine-, or ten-win regular seasons for teams that clearly weren’t as good as other programs with more challenging schedules.

Districts can also come back in classes 1A-4A. Districts for those classifications disappeared from 2017, with teams qualifying for the playoffs via points and later RPI. That was the biggest change in playoff format since the FHSAA expanded the playoffs in 1993 to seat district runners in the postseason.

So, what exactly does all this mean?

Nothing at the moment.

Votes in the committee are not binding until the FHSAA board considers them for an official vote. But if the board votes to pass the shakeup, the biggest playoff change in years is on the way.

If the proposed changes are approved, it would create an additional classification for what is now. Rather than have all 67 counties in the state play under one umbrella, the metro would house the largest eight counties in Florida — Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas, and Seminole — into a division. Schools would be divided into classes by enrollment. Suburban and rural will receive the remaining schools of the 59 other provinces, although rural class 1A would remain.

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Creekside football coach Sean McIntyre, who represents Section I in Florida with Chiles coach Kevin Pettis, said the plan as it stands now offers a more level playing field. According to data from the Football Advisory Commission, schools from the eight major metropolitan areas have won 89% of state football championships in the past 10 seasons.

When he split the subway and suburbs, McIntyre said it became clear to him during conversations and polls in his section that a change could even things out.

“Those districts with schools that are similar are comparable in capacity, how the school works. There is more parity and competitive balance. It’s more apples for apples, pears for pears,” he said.

“They feel like I’m okay if I don’t win a state title. That would be a great event if it happened. If that’s what programs base their success on, most years they will be disappointed. [The plan] just gives you a chance to compete with programs you are comparable to in meaningful football matches.

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That proposal was passed unanimously by two votes of the football committee. It was voted down (8-7) in the athletic director’s first advisory committee, but passed by 8-7 votes on Wednesday.

Recruitment also remains a major issue for the FHSAA, although it will not be addressed in this cycle. The suburban-metro split comes closest to a compromise that could put some of the schools that benefit most from rampant transfers in the same pool.

At the football coach meeting earlier this month, Calvary’s Christian football coach Kirk Hoza suggested that FHSAA Ordinance 37.1.2, which describes recruiting, be deleted. The association does not have enough power to enforce such a widespread problem.

“Recruitment is spiraling out of control, especially in football and basketball. What is in the rulebook is only theory for our most egregious offenders. What is practically happening in Florida is an embarrassment to everyone involved in the governance of our HS sports, whether it is allowed or not,” he wrote. “Too often, institutions that appear in championships and rounds that go to the “finals lead to the worst offenders. Championships are often defined by institutional ignorance, tolerance or, in the worst cases, mission. Our lawmakers fear legal pushback and funding and there is no manpower available to enforce the rules.”

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