By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
A new era of high school football in the state of Florida begins this season thanks to a new playoff format implemented by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Coaches across the state have been clamoring for years for a new system because of unbalanced districts and regions, causing more talented teams to miss the playoffs while teams that were under .500 automatically qualified by finishing second in their respective districts.
That will no longer be the case.
In a 14-2 vote last September, the FHSAA board of directors voted to drastically change how teams qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1993. The new format eliminates districts for Classes 1A-4A while bringing back at-large berths for all eight classifications.
While none of the six area teams are in Classes 1A-4A — where teams will be divided into regions — the new format eliminates a district runner-up from automatically earning a spot in the postseason in Classes 5A-8A.
Teams will now qualify for the playoffs using a point system. While district champions will still make up 16 of the 32 spots in the bracket for Classes 5A-8A, the other 16 spots will be wild card berths — four in each region — earned from points accumulated throughout the season based on strength of wins and losses.
The four teams in each region will be seeded based on the amount of points earned.
“It’s going to create a ton of interest because people are going to be constantly tracking the points — who’s got points, how many points and all those type of things. It’s going to create a completely new dynamic and I think it’s going to be great for high school football,” Port Charlotte coach Jordan Ingman said. “I’m more of a cut-and-dried kind of guy. I like knowing we have to do this, this and this — we have to beat these teams to get this. It adds a little bit more variables, which I’ve never been a variable guy, but I think in general it’s good for high school football and I think it’s good for fairness and good for the interest in high school football.”
The goal is to make all 10 games on every team’s schedule worth something, which wasn’t the case under the previous format where only district games mattered.
For most teams, that was less than half the schedule.
“I was a head football coach for a long time and when you really broke down the season, week 1-2-3 was kind of, for a lack of a better word, your scrimmage games getting ready for districts. Now you gotta go,” said FHSAA director of athletics Frank Beasley, who coached at Dunnellon and Columbia for a total of nine years. “Everything is going to be important from week 1-11 so I’m excited about that … it brings a sense of urgency to your season and making sure you come out of the gate pretty strong.”
Beasley says a lot of research went into deciding on the right system for the state. Florida’s format is modeled after the point system used by the Nebraska School Activities Association with modified points.
Here’s how it’ll work:
For at least the 2017 and 2018 seasons, there will be a four-category system with teams divided by their end of season win percentage to determine points for each win. The value of a victory against a team that won more than 80 percent of its games will be worth 50 points with the values scaling down by five points for every 20 percent until reaching 35 points against the lowest tier (less than 40 percent).
Teams also will receive points for losses, although no loss will be worth more than any win. The value of a loss against a team that won 80 percent or more of its games will be worth 30 points with the values scaling down by five points for every 20 percent until reaching 15 points against the lowest tier (less than 40 percent).
Bonus points also are included in the new format, with teams receiving three bonus points for playing an opponent who reached the playoffs during the previous two-year scheduling cycle.
The new format could’ve affected District 6A-10 last season, where Charlotte and Port Charlotte finished first and second while North Fort Myers finished third. Boca Ciega made the playoffs as the runner-up in District 6A-9 but would have only had 270 points under the new format while North Fort Myers would have had 300 before bonus points, opening the door for North Fort Myers to qualify for an at-large berth over Boca Ciega.
“I think it keeps teams out of the playoffs that shouldn’t be in the playoffs and I think it rewards teams that may be playing in a tough district such as ourselves,” Ingman said. “Last year, there would’ve been three of us in the playoffs. North Fort Myers is a very good football team and anybody that’s been around our area knows that, and they were better than some of the teams that were in the playoffs. I think it’s very good for high school football.”
Of course, other schools have expressed concern over the format, such as how to keep up with the standings and where exactly they’ll fall. That’s led to confusion for some, including Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop.
“You could tell me more about it than I know. I haven’t looked at it,” Waldrop said. “I was kind of hoping you’d do something in the paper every week that tells us how many points we have.
“I don’t know what you get for what. But I know our five non-district opponents are all going to have really good records, so I’m pumped about that.”
There’s some good news for Waldrop regarding the standings.
The FHSAA currently has all the schedules in all classifications up on its website under its football section and it will update with results every week. For the week for each game, Beasley said the website will show how many points that game is worth as of that point in the season based on the teams records.
Starting in Week 5, the FHSAA will start putting standings on its website similar to what ESPN does with the College Football Playoff. The official playoff bracket will be unveiled at the end of the regular season.
The only problem with keeping up with the standings is that the point values will change week to week. If Charlotte plays a team that’s 3-0 in Week 3 but that team finishes 3-7, the Tarpons won’t earn as many points for the victory as they originally thought.
The points for each team in the standings will obviously fluctuate weekly. But Beasley insisted it won’t be too confusing.
“As we get into this, at the end of the year our coaches will start to understand and see it through fruition and see that it’s not really hard to understand,” Beasley said. “Often times our coaches we’re like, ‘if we’re the runner-up in our district we’re in.’ Now they’ve had to learn a new system, which is obviously a major system, but it just takes time to learn and look at it and understand what it means.”
Lemon Bay has an easy solution for keeping up with the standings — don’t pay attention to them. For the Manta Rays, the goal is still pretty simple and that’s to win a district title to earn an automatic berth into the postseason.
The new system may be confusing for some but one thing still isn’t — win your games and you’re in.
“I think if you win your games it’ll take care of itself,” Lemon Bay coach Don Southwell said. “With the points thing, we’re aiming to compete and win our district. We don’t want to rely on points.
“We have a great core group of seniors and it’s their goal to lead this team back to the playoffs by winning the district.”
No system is perfect. Beasley knows that. But he believes the FHSAA has created a better system than the one that was in place.
“Obviously, there’s the unknown. It’s so different than anything we’ve ever done before, but it’s exciting. It’s created a lot buzz,” Beasley said. “There’s obviously going to be some bumps in the road — we know that — and we’re fully aware and have listened to our membership and we’re excited about our future. It’s going to be exciting.”