It’s not that we’re obsessed with the issue, well, perhaps, maybe a little, but we prefer to call it passionately observant on the grounds of its potential sweeping changes to the postseason system in our state. We wouldn’t be giving this proposal its due diligence without presenting the opposing side to the FHSAA’s new playoff format, however.
We know there more-than-a-few kinks to be worked through on this issue, and we’ve heard the acknowledgement of those kinks even from those that are steadfast in their support of the proposal. What exactly are those kinks, though? Wiregrass Ranch Head Coach Mark Kantor, never shy to take a stance on an issue (and thankfully so in our minds) pretty much speaks for those that we’ve spoken to that are more than just a little leery on the subject. Kantor, while sympathetic to the FHSAA’s intentions in this new proposal, could give less-than-zero compassion if that’s even possible to a group that he thinks the governing body succumbed to in the first place.
“I understand what the state’s trying to do,” said Kantor. “But, when you look at it, the state honestly created this thing a few years back, because the schools up in the northern counties–talking about the Panhandle–they’re the ones that made this big stink about being in six-team districts and having to travel all over the place.”
The Bulls are in a unique position in that they are the only Pasco County school to be in a district with six other schools hailing from Hillsborough County. You count the number of teams on less than two hands around the state that fall into this type of situation. They are a team that went 2-8 last season, but showed a ton of promise this spring. They also happen to be in one of the toughest districts in our entire area and would stand to benefit mightily if they were to navigate themselves to a 7-3 record this season.
In fact, that kind of season–even if they finished third in their district–would have them in the playoffs easily and as one of the top-four seeds believe it or not. Sounds like a win-win for Kantor and his crew, right? Not exactly. This new format would essentially keep his squad potentially from being in the postseason because going 7-3 against THAT district schedule is as good as going 10-0 in several–not just a few–districts across the region and state. Kantor recognizes this and also gives his solution the issue–an issue that’s likely not to go away even if the proposal is adopted–which is having the districts properly grouped in the first place.
“When you look at us, it’s going to hurt us because a) we’re not going to be able to jump into Hillsborough County and play b) although it does allow us to play other people, for instance, we’re going to have to look at playing teams in Pinellas or Polk.” Kantor goes on, “I just don’t see why you put teams in regions if you’re not going to play those teams in a region. The requirements are you have to play four of those teams, you pick the four you want to play. They can go away from this whole proposal by simply re-doing the districts and make them right. Just tell the counties ‘look, we’re going to have to put you in this district–are you going to have to travel?–yes–Is it going to cost you money?–yes–we get that.’ But everybody’s is going to have to.”
What comes next in the course of the conversation is inevitable. The focus shifts towards the biggest districts being immune to many things under this proposal. There’s the 2-ton elephant not only sitting in the room, but it’s moved from the corner to a spot on the chests of the schools like they were a Persian cat snuggling to get warm. Central Funding–while Draconian and ham-fisted in its approach, actually doesn’t exactly “hurt” schools in the biggest counties under the new proposal, in fact, looking at counties with 25+ schools in the district, it probably helps them. Under the new proposal, things wouldn’t really change because he believes that will put an even bigger premium on the “upper” class teams virtually infecting the perennial 1-3 win teams with the Bubonic plague.
“That’s one of the things that the state’s going to have to look at–and it’s tough because there’s so many schools in a county like Hillsborough. Using Hillsborough and Dade Counties and even Broward as examples, they have enough schools where they can schedule everybody without issue and save a lot on transportation and so on–when you allow the other schools in those counties branch out, they’re still going to look for the best-on-best because that’s how you earn the points. A team like us going 2-8 last year, we’re not going to be able to find schools that want to schedule us. When you look at it by records, no school that’s 9-1 or 8-2 is going to schedule a 2-8 team–especially on the points system–they’re just not.”
Would recalibrating the way the schools are classified help? Yep. There’s all kinds of manipulations to the rules that administrators and coaches use to circumnavigate having to play in once class or another for various reasons–but mostly because of travel costs. Sometimes justified, sometimes hogwash. There are schools RIGHT NOW in our area that are playing out of their classifications and maybe damaging themselves unknowingly or perhaps out of “worry” that the set-up in weight class is too much.
One thing that shouldn’t be negotiable is the idea of rewarding teams that accept their schedule and finish with (in some occasions) double the amount of wins as a runner-up from another district. Kantor, while opposed to doing away with districts, is in-favor of getting those teams into the postseason, but with a caveat. That’s where the rewards stop.
“I think the recalibration of the student populations is huge, but if you go back, they had a wildcard. Each region had a wildcard team go in. When you do that, now you take a team that’s like an 8-2 Wharton, and you’re putting them in the playoffs. Granted, they’re going to be on the road throughout–and when you’re a wildcard you’re not playing at home–at all–you’re on the road until the finals.”
Kantor turns to a specific example of what could happen once the new high school in the Wesley Chapel area is built and the zones are redrawn. He then gives a PERFECT solution to something we’ve been harping on. Specifically, Hillsborough County does a disservice to its northwest and northern teams having to travel at insane times during rush hour out to east or south county. More than the teams, the PAYING fan bases that have to travel. Keep those teams playing each other for certain, but perhaps think a little outside the box–or just across the border. Over time, less travel plus bigger crowds–even if two different counties–will win over the sparse crowds and late arrivals of team buses that fight for two hours to make it.
“When the new school out by us gets built, hopefully we’ll drop into 6A, but I’m also hearing that Mitchell’s numbers are going up so it could be a flip-flop. You put Mitchell, Sunlake, Wiregrass, and then you put Wharton, Steinbrenner and it could be a Gaither or a Sickles–either one–that could be a six-team district and those schools are all right there essentially.”
As mentioned, the kinks are there, but so are the potentially topsy-turvy structures in how the schedules are put together. Although Kantor is ultimately on the side of having the best teams in the fold when November rolls around, it’s well within his right to relish the current status where–for better or worse–in sickness and in health–we are married to the structure and that’s what gives the game its character.
“When you place everyone into a region and they don’t have to play everybody, is it a one-year or a two-year schedule? When you’re an 8A school, who else are you going to play that’s above you? So like I was saying, I get what they want to do, I understand it, but I love the districts. You have a true district champion, a true runner-up. If you want to be a true district champion, you’ve got play better in those district games.”