The changes, affecting baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball, will take place in the 2019-2020 school year
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) approved widespread changes to its classification and playoff systems of five sports — baseball, softball, basketball, soccer and volleyball — on Oct. 29.
Lakewood Ranch High boys basketball coach Jeremy Schiller said the new classification system, which will remain based on enrollment, will create more competition in lower-enrollment classes, Schiller said, which is a positive. Schiller was less enthusiastic about leaving at-large bids up to MaxPreps rankings when all MaxPreps will say about them is they involve strength of schedule and win/loss records.
"I think they (MaxPreps) get the rankings close to correct," Schiller said. "The problem is when rankings between teams are close, there is no room for error, and we do not know what separates them. It decides which schools get to the playoffs and host games, things that make money for schools, and we do not know exactly how it is calculated."
Schiller said he likes the current FHSAA football system because he can figure out exactly how many point teams can get, based on their schedule, with a few calculations. There is no way to do this in these five sports, he said, likening it to him teaching a class without giving his students a protocol.
The Out-of-Door Academy volleyball coach Stefanie Betz, who was vocal in her disapproval of previous plans, said the new plan is a good compromise between the old system and the FHSAA's wish to implement rankings. Still, Betz is hesitant for the same reason as Schiller: the rankings system lacks transparency, and in some volleyball cases — a sports Betz said is rife with scores entered incorrectly on MaxPreps — it does not seem to be accurate.
"We just lost in the regional finals (on Oct. 30), but before that, we beat Canterbury High 3-0 in the semis (on Oct. 23)," Betz said. "When MaxPreps updated its rankings after that match, Canterbury was still ranked above us, even though we beat them and it was not particularly close. I understand things can happen on a given night and the best team does not always win, but when you beat someone handily (and do not jump them), it is frustrating."
The FHSAA will release classification, region and district memberships for fall sports once the current fall season has concluded, and will do the same for winter and spring sports. Betz said she has always scheduled tough teams to keep her kids challenged, along with lesser teams to get some wins on the schedule. This gives ODA an advantage come the district tournament, Betz said. Betz will not be straying from that strategy once the new system is in place, she said, and likes that under the new system a set number of district games is no longer mandated, giving her more freedom to customize ODA's schedule.
Schiller, too, is in favor of scheduling freedom. The Mustangs have not lost a district game in three seasons, and Schiller said even though he would not mind continuing to play some of those teams, Lakewood Ranch's opponents might not reciprocate those feelings. Teams get to make the schedule they feel is right for them.
"At Lakewood Ranch, we are excited about anything that improves competitive balance and provides a great playoff experience," Schiller said. "This could end up really good or it could end up backfiring, but they had to test something."
A year from now, coaches, players and fans will have a better idea of where the system falls on that spectrum.
These changes differ from the changes proposed to the FHSAA in May, which suggested having six “divisions” instead of seven districts, and basing the classifications themselves on MaxPreps rankings. Schiller called the now-axed proposal "really bad," and said the new system is an improvement on it.
The system will be in place starting with the 2019-2020 school year, and remain in place for two years, after which it will be re-evaluated.
FHSAA executive director George Tomyn said in a FHSAA-released video that after talking with schools across the state, the FHSAA thought infusing a “rankings” aspect into the new system was important because it allows for more competitive balance in each class. But they also heard from many schools that believe enrollment is an important factor in classification that needed to remain, and so it did.
“Today, our Board of Directors passed what we think is a pretty neat classification process,” Tomyn said. “I am proud of our staff, which has worked long and hard hours on this, and equally proud of our member schools, who gave us productive and positive input.”