Drastic changes coming to high school football districts, playoffs

Published: Updated:

FORT MYERS, Fla. — More meaningful regular season high school football is on the way.

The Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors approved sweeping changes to football playoff qualification Monday, moving away from a district-based setup to a complex points system that will go into effect in the fall of 2017.

“This is a landmark day for the state of high school football in the state of Florida,” said FHSAA athletics director Frank Beasley, who spearheaded the plan that passed by a 14-2 vote.

The key difference is that each game will have bearing on a team’s ability to qualify for the playoffs. Under the current system, only district games truly count.

Teams will get points for each game based on the strength of the opponent. Each opponent will fall into one of four different tiers based on their final regular season records.

A win against an opponent that finishes with an otherwise unbeaten record will be worth 50 points, and a loss to that team would be 35 points.

You’d get the same 35 points for beating a winless team, and only 20 for losing to that team. The aim is to encourage schools to play tougher opponents.

Bill Kramer, coach of the powerhouse Naples program, hopes that spells the end of scheduling woes for his team.

“It’s been tough for us here in Southwest Florida for us to find games the past two years,” Kramer said. “We’ve had a nine-game schedule the past two years, so hopefully this is an incentive for folks to play folks.”

The points system, which originally would have awarded bonus points for teams that play opponents in higher classifications, has been simplified since it was first proposed in May. But it’s only one element of a broader change in the way teams qualify for the postseason.

The number of teams making the playoffs in each class will stay the same — 32 in 5A-8A and 16 in 1A-4A. Teams in Classes 5A-8A will continue to be categorized into four regions and four districts per region, but only one team per district is guaranteed a playoff berth under the new system.

The other four playoff berths in each region will go to the teams with the most points, regardless of district. Conceivably, as many as four teams from one district could make the playoffs.

“You still honor your district champion,” said Fort Myers coach Sammy Sirianni, who along with Kramer was on an advisory board that gave input on the changes. “… To me, you had to have a district championship incentive.”

Both Kramer and Sirianni, whose teams play in Class 6A, are glad districts will still be around for them, unlike in classes 1A-4A, where teams will simply be sectioned off by region and the points system will determine all the playoff spots.  Schools in 1A-4A will be responsible for coming up with the entirety of their regular season schedules on their own, since they won’t have any district games to write in ink each season.

That’s a potential headache. But it’s also an opportunity for those teams to renew traditional rivalries and work together with other schools to reform conferences, which used to play a key role in scheduling in the days before districts.

“There’s going to be some negatives along the road. We fully know that and are aware of that. We’re going to continue to work and tweak as we move forward,” Beasley said in a press conference following the plan’s approval. “… Is any system perfect? No. But we feel like we’ve created a better system than what we have now.”

Perhaps most glaring among the flaws of the current system is tiny districts like the three-team 7A-12 that houses Gulf Coast, Riverdale and South Fort Myers. Those teams, in essence, play only two regular season games of consequence.

“I think if it eliminates those 3-7 district runner-ups from the playoffs, it’s probably a good thing,” Kramer said.

Gone, too, will be the tiebreaker games that teams play under the current plan. Ties will now be broken by points and other criteria. Teams won’t be allowed to replace canceled games by scheduling different opponents, either — a potential issue for if weather fouls up the schedule.

The FHSAA will propose new district alignments for teams in Class 5A-8A in December, with finalized alignments to follow in January. Every team’s schedule must be in place by May.

The changes won’t necessarily end there.

“We’ve had lengthy conversations in our office about how this will affect and trickle down to other sports,” Beasley said. “We’re excited about the future and where that may take us.”

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.