A change could be coming to the high school football playoffs starting in 2017, and it may or may not terrify coaches everywhere.
In early May, the Florida High School Athletic Association released a proposal that outlined its plans for overhauling the postseason, which would include eliminating districts all together.
Considering the FHSAA’s system relies heavily on districts, the new plan would be a colossal adjustment. Under the current system, district champions and runner-ups move on to region playoffs, where they have the chance to compete down the line for a state championship.
In the new plan, programs would have the ability to schedule whomever they would like, given they understand that playoffs are determined by seeding and seeding is determined by power points — basically a strength of schedule indicator — built up over an 11-week schedule.
Without districts, teams would be placed into one of four regions over eight classifications and the top eight seeds in each region would reach the postseason.
But here’s the important part: Under this new plan, the FHSAA believes, the best teams in the state would reach the playoffs, as opposed to programs with under-.500 records who only reached the postseason by virtue of two-, three- or four-team districts under the old system.
Talk about a handful.
Keep in mind, the plan is still far away from implementation. It might not ever see the light of day.
Last week, the FHSAA sent a questionnaire to all coaches and athletic directors in the state asking for their input on the new proposed format. They could choose three options.
- Keep the same system, don’t change a thing
- Keep district scheduling, have a district champion and the rest of playoff seeds go to teams with highest power point totals
- Eliminate districts, have no district champions, determine playoffs based on power points
The feedback from the survey could ultimately change the plan entirely. Ida Baker athletic director and football coach Brian Conn selected the second option, believing it to be the most fair.
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“I think if you’re a champion and you’ve handled your scheduled well, at least one team from the district should represent that area,” he said.
Evangelical Christian coach Tyler Gold chose the first option, feeling as though small schools would have a tough time scheduling teams to play with this new format.
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“I’m a traditionalist,” Gold said. “I like districts the way they are. I like the way the playoff system works now.”
I’m almost certainly in the minority, but I would choose the third option. I like everything about a points-based playoff system.
Determining postseason bids based on power points isn’t new. Lots of states do it. My home state of Pennsylvania has been doing it for years and it’s proven to be an effective way of determining playoff teams. Rarely do programs cry foul for missing the postseason. How can they?
States like Virginia, Nebraska New Jersey, Georgia and Louisiana also have some version of power points to determine state playoff teams. In fact, FHSAA’s director of athletics, Frank Beasley, came up with Florida’s version of power points after reviewing a handle of other state’s systems.
The reality is, if you take care of business, you’ll be in the playoffs. I’m told by FHSAA spokesperson Kyle Niblett that many athletic directors are already on board with the idea and want change.
But the fear some in our region have is that larger demographic areas like Miami, Orlando and Tampa will infringe upon those seeds and take up spots.
Sure, there are risks. The FHSAA is likely to hear a handful when it meets for a board of directors meeting on June 13-14, a conversation that could ultimately turn into another conversation in September with the athletic directors advisory board committee, and then another meeting again next year.
The main concern goes like this: A small school power won’t be able to schedule a big school because of the system.
The easy answer: Does your team want to get better? Then schedule the game! Stop worrying about the system and do what’s best for your team.
Here’s why the current system doesn’t work.
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Under today’s playoff system, any game outside district play really doesn’t matter. Teams can schedule whomever they like outside district play, they can lose every contest, and if they win the games that matter – example: two games in a three-game district – then they’re still in.
That’s just not right. Enough with schools hanging district runner-up banners inside their gymnasiums disguising five-win seasons.
Being in the playoffs should mean something.
When it comes to power points, the FHSAA has offered a simple explanation: 50 points for a win over a team with eight wins or more and 35 points for losing to a team with at least eight wins.
Programs can also earn bonus points for playing up in classification – one point per game upward in class — while playing a team with fewer wins will earn you fewer points.
It needs some adjusting, and I believe that if the FHSAA truly does believe in this new plan, they need to consult with states that have made it work.
The way Pennsylvania does it, they multiply the value of a program’s weighted winning percentage (55 percent) by their opponent’s weighted winning percentage (45 percent), giving an accurate value of strength of schedule across an entire season.
Give it time. I think it’s the right way to go.
But they have to do one thing first.
The FHSAA needs to scrap the idea of hosting a “seed show” every week to announce where playoff teams stand.
It’s not necessary. Just hand out a week-by-week breakdown of the brackets to every team in the state and call it a day. This isn’t March Mardness, nor is it the college football playoff. Make it public, so everyone can follow it.
A do-or-die format in the last week of the season can still exist with team’s knowing where they stand in their regions.
It will actually build momentum heading into the postseason.
And it will still terrify coaches.