The Florida High School Athletic Association shook things up a few years ago by reformatting the football districts operate and how teams qualify for the postseason.
This summer it’s batter-up for baseball and softball.
The Gainesville-based prep sports organization’s June 18 press release announced reclassifications for both sports, which is a process that has occurred every four years. The FHSAA is now going back to a two-year reclassification cycle.
The biggest broad reclassification change is that the number of classes has been consolidated. Baseball and softball bumped up from six classes to eight during the 2011-12 school year and then expanded to nine in 2015-16.
Beginning next school year, that number will be down to seven, 1A through 7A.
That shift is nothing, however, compared to what’s being done with postseason qualification standards.
First of all, districts.
The old way of reaching the postseason happened like this: All district teams played each other twice, or once in some instances. Seedings for district tournaments were based on the results of district games. The two teams who qualified for the district championship game qualified for the postseason, with the winner, of course, being the district champion and getting to host a first-round game.
Pretty cut-and-dry. But that’s gone.
Beginning next spring, district dynamics change dramatically. They still exist, but teams are not required to play each other. District tournaments still exist, but since teams don’t have to play each other, seedings will be determined by MaxPreps.com rankings. The winner of a district tournament will still be a league champion and receive a top-four seeding in their respective region, guaranteeing a first-round home game. Just reaching a district title game no longer guarantees a spot in the bracket, though. Each region will now have four at-large bids and those are also determined by MaxPreps.com rankings.
The introduction of MaxPreps.com – a website founded in 2002 and currently owned by CBS Interactive – is the most intriguing, and controversial, aspect of the FHSAA’s announcement. The site allows programs to load things such as their schedules, rosters and statistics. Its popularity as a useful tool continues to grow across multiple sports, though some teams utilize it more than others.
That’s going to change a bit.
Every team now must, at minimum, input each and every game result or face being fined by the FHSAA. Since MaxPreps.com rankings now carry significant weight, accurate team records are a necessity. Schools will not be required to load stats during the regular season, but the four teams that reach states in each classification are required to input updated stats when the state series begins. If not, they’ll face fines of $100 per round.
The FHSAA included a Frequently Asked Question section to its press release and stated that a MaxPreps.com representative told the organization’s Board of Directors last year that there is no incentive for teams to run up scores and doing so wouldn’t affect how teams are ranked. No further details were provided, however, and the website has some curious quirks when it comes to its ranking system. For instance, MaxPreps.com updates a pair of national polls — one is its Xcellent 25 Writers’ Poll and the other is generically listed as National Rankings. Calvary Christian baseball won the Class 4A state championship this season and ended No. 12 in the Xcellent 25 poll. The Warriors’ National Ranking, however, is No. 26.
Baseball and softball will be affected by their classification ranking, but how that process is determined is tricky and contentious when trying to somehow compare teams from all over the state.
As for reclassification, here’s where North Pinellas and West Pasco programs landed. There is no appeal process for programs unsatisfied with their placement. The only option would be to become an independent for the next two years until reclassification occurs again.
As for the local impact of these changes:
West Pasco schools got scattered around a bit. Fivay and River Ridge will join Land O’ Lakes, Pasco, Chamberlain and Freedom in the Pasco-Hillsborough Class 5A District 6. Anclote and Gulf will be the two Pasco programs in Class 4A-9. The other four are in Pinellas: Dunedin, Gibbs, Lakewood and Tarpon Springs. Mitchell will be in a five-team league with schools from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough. Class 6A-9 includes Sunlake, Wiregrass Ranch, East Lake and Gaither. Similar to Anclote and Gulf, Hudson is in Class 4A. But the Cobras are grouped with teams to the north in Class 4A-7 – Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Tech, South Sumter and Weeki Wachee.
North Pinellas programs got fairly jumbled about, as well. As mentioned, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs will be in Class 4A-9 with Anclote, Gulf, Gibbs and Lakewood. Rivals Clearwater and Countryside form the Pinellas representation of Class 5A-7. Their four other district opponents are to the east: Blake, Hillsborough, Jefferson and Jesuit. Also mentioned previously, East Lake is in Class 6A-9 with Mitchell, Sunlake, Wiregrass Ranch and Gaither. Palm Harbor University remains in the largest classification and will be the lone Pinellas school in Class 7A-7. The Hurricanes’ Hillsborough foes will be Alonso, Plant, Sickles, Steinbrenner and Wharton. Private schools Calvary Christian and Clearwater Central Catholic are together for another couple years in Class 3A-8. They’ll be joined by four Hillsborough schools: Berkeley Prep, Brooks-DeBartolo, Carrollwood Day and Tampa Catholic.