The FHSAA Board of Directors met on Mon. Feb. 28, 2022 at the Robert W. Hughes FHSAA Building in Gainesville, Fla., voting 9-7 to endorse the Metro-Suburban classification plan for football. [Joshua WIlson/FloridaHSFootball.com]

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Major changes are on the way for high school football in the Sunshine State.

The plan dubbed the Metro-Suburban classification plan for football was approved by a two-vote margin by the Board of Directors with a 9-7 vote to bring the plan from the FHSAA concept to the policy during Monday morning’s Board of Directors meeting inside the Robert W. Hughes FHSAA Building.

The changes to how football schools are classified in Florida will take place starting for the upcoming two-year cycle starting in the 2022-2023 school year by placing schools in classifications based upon geographical location first and then by classification based upon enrollment.

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Additionally, the plan will add a ninth overall classification for football, but also keep the current rural classification together as well.

The plan dubbed the Metro-Suburban classification plan when it was first placed as an action item in 2021 by the Football Advisory Committee will place the eight highest densely populated counties in Florida to be divided into four classifications while taking the other 59 counties that will be divided into five classifications including four suburban classifications and keeping the current rural classification intact.

GETTING TO THE VOTE

In getting to the vote, it took a two-hour process with public comments and discussion from the Board of Directors to get to the final vote which would chart what course the FHSAA staff would take as the association will enter a new two-year classification cycle starting in the 2022-2023 academic year.

Price Harris, the head football coach at Dunnellon and one of the biggest backers of the Metro-Suburban classification proposal was happy to see the proposal pass after having a hard-fought battle with presenting and discussing the proposal to multiple committees along the way over the last two months in the final push for approval.

“There were multiple coaches on this from the get-go. I think that coaches saw that there needed to be a change,” Harris said.

However, Harris also recognized that no change was going to be perfect or make everyone happy either.

“I know that no change is perfect. There are going to be some that are not happy with it, and there are some people are ecstatic with it. So, I believe that this is going to be a thing that is going to progress and move forward, Harris said.”

And even with the plan being voted upon to move from concept to FHSAA policy, Harris agrees that is room to make changes in the plan that could need tweaking.

“There are going to have to probably be some things that are changed as we go, but a step a right in the right direction of change and is something that we definitely knew needed to happen,” Harris said.

The plan as detailed with a breakdown based upon the number of commitments for the FHSAA State Series for the next cycle indicates that 228 schools would be divided into the four Metro classifications while 222 schools would be divided into the four Suburban classifications.

As for the Rural classification which has been Class 1A for the last decade-plus, will include 33 schools for the next cycle and will still use current procedures that are in place in FHSAA policy.

MIXED REACTIONS FROM THE BOARD WITH CONCERN AND SUPPORT

Some concern from the Board of Directors members arose during the discussion about how this was only the first of them hearing the plan even though the plan followed all the step as an item going through both the Football Advisory Committee and the Athletic Directors Advisory Committee for the two-year process as required by FHSAA bylaws and policy and was not fast tracked.

Chris Patricca, who represents Sections 3 and 4 for School Boards on the Board of Directors pointed out that she is a data driven person and wants to see all the facts and figures before she can make a decision regarding something. She felt that she did not have everything to make a decision at the moment regarding Metro-Suburban she felt was in the best of interest for everyone.

Patricca also stressed that she did not see a clear mandate from the athletic directors advisory committee.

In the end, Patricca would end up being one of the seven no votes for the plan.

For St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson who represents Sections 1 and 2 for School Superintendents on the school board, spoke with his athletic directors at eight high schools, including St. Johns Beachside which will open this fall, as well as the football coaches. He told the board that he looked at the plan to see if the kids were being treated equability.

However, at the same time, Forson also was aware that the plan would have problems but wanted to try something given the work that had been done on the plan.

Forson would end up being one of the nine yes votes for the plan.

Charlie Marello, principal at Niceville High representing Section 1 Public Schools which spans from Pensacola to Jacksonville, said that he has never had much feedback regarding anything the board has done until the Metro-Suburban proposal was moving thorough to the Board of Directors. He told everyone that his inbox was in support from coaches in his section.

However, Ryan Smith who is the Athletic Director at Palm Beach Gardens Benjamin, representing Section 4 Private Schools on the Board of Directors countered argue the support from some areas, also had the opposite in his section where they felt they were being totally left out and that there was a fear that schools would flee out of the proposed Class 1A-Metro leaving barely any schools to field a classification.

ARZA SEEN AS THE SWING VOTE

What came as a surprise to some is the support from an unlikely supporter of the plan from Board of Directors member Ralph Azra, a former state legislator who was Miami High’s head football coach from 1985 until 1990 who was one of the nine yes votes for the plan. Arza serves as a Citizen-At-Large member representing Sections 3 and 4 of the FHSAA Board of Directors.

For Arza he simply saw the plan is doing what is right for kids and told the rest of the board and the guests in attendance that he could see the equality issues between Metro schools and Suburban schools.

“You want to do what is right for kids and I believe what we are doing is for is right for kids in the state of Florida. All kids, not just some kids, but all kids,” Arza said.

Arza said he felt touched by the coaches, reflecting on his past as a head coach, who also coached guys like Max Edwards who is Miami Northwestern’s head coach and Tim “Ice” Harris Sr., who just recently returned as the head coach at Miami Booker T. Washington.

“I was touched by the coaches. I know how hard coaches work. I was a coach and I know the sacrifices that are made and the amount of money they make, my heart goes out to them,” Arza said.

However, Arza understands that his decision to vote in favor of the plan may not be popular at the end of the day, reminiscing back on his time as a state legislator, husband, and father.

“I have five kids and been married 40 years – I am used to unpopular decisions. It’s just a process and at the end of the day I think the committee did the right thing, the board did the right thing. There are going to be some bumps in the road, it’s not going to be perfect, but I think we are heading in the right direction.” Arza said.

WHAT IS NEXT FOR THE FHSAA TO DO

Now the FHSAA staff is tasked with crafting the final policy that will define Metro-Suburban as defined within the concepts of the plan presented and something FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn, who is retiring at the end of the school year, stated that they will follow the Board of Directors directive on.

“Our board voted that we break our football classifications into a metro and suburban areas and taking the eight most densely populated counties and separating them out and making divisions out of those – four classifications and we will do just that. I made that very clear yesterday at our operations meeting and again today at our board – we are going to follow the board’s direction and look forward to the challenge,” Tomyn said.

As with the implementation of Metro-Suburban, Tomyn recognizes the challenges ahead and what needs to be done for the FHSAA member schools given the timeline.

“We thought about this for a long time. You heard the comments today that this whole concept, begun by our association about six, seven years ago, so we have talked about it a lot. With the implementation, we got some ideas ready to go. We will get on the whiteboard, we will spend some sleepless nights, not because of worry, but because of interest and hard work to make it work,” Tomyn said.

Tomyn was quick however to reiterate the FHSAA’s role for its member schools at the end of the day.

“See our focus is our membership and individual member schools. That is our focus, so we need to create a product that all of our schools can understand whether they be large schools, small schools, private schools, public schools, charter schools or whoever, we need to create a product they can understand so they can participate appropriately,” Tomyn said.

TOMYN HAD RESERVATIONS ABOUT THE PLAN

Tomyn’s recommended course of action was not to endorse the Metro-Suburban plan with an endorsement that the Athletic Directors Advisory Committee continue its work regarding classifications.

However, the Operations Committee swung things around with a 3-2 vote on Sunday during their meeting to go against the recommendation and to vote for the plan as presented.

Still Tomyn expressed his reservations about the plan and why he did not endorse it.

“My biggest reservation going forward is we don’t have all those questions answered. I am a boring kind of guy, an establishment person. I like to have as many questions answered ahead of time as I possibly can,” Tomyn said.

But now there are more questions Tomyn pointed to and it appears from his view that the Board of Directors has given the FHSAA Staff some flexibility on things.

“We got a lot of questions now. The Board evidently, it appears in my interpretation, I haven’t had a chance to talk to staff yet, but they have given us some flexibility to do some things. And we are going to do that and do that with a positive attitude and get after it,” Tomyn said with an enthusiastic tone.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL LOOK LIKE IN THE END?

Based upon a handout from Justin Harrison, FHSAA’s Associate Executive Director of Athletic Services that went to the Board of Directors, indicates that Metro 4A, 3A, and 2A classifications will roughly have 64 schools in each classification. For Metro 1A the classification would roughly have 36 schools, overall.

For Suburban 4A, 3A, and 2A classifications, the numbers would be slightly higher for the number of teams per classification with 68 schools while Suburban 1A would have roughly 30 teams overall.

Now as for the timeline to get everything sorted out from the actual policy being written to teams receiving their districts and classification?

That answer is about roughly a month but could be sooner, according to Justin Harrison, FHSAA Associate Executive Director of Athletic Services.

However, according to a framework passed out by Harrison to the Board and guests attending the meeting, this is what things could look like overall.

THE FRAMEWORK

The framework uses 2021 fall enrollment numbers submitted by member schools and the number of schools that have committed to the FHSAA State Series for the upcoming reclassification cycle that will start this fall.

Metro Counties: Duval, Seminole, Orange, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade

Suburban Counties: The remaining 59 counties not listed out of the 67 counties in Florida.

Classifications
Metro

Class 4A-Metro: 2356 and up – 64 schools
Class 3A-Metro: 1675-2355 – 64 schools
Class 2A-Metro: 601-1674 – 64 schools
Class 1A-Metro: 600 and below – 36 schools

Suburban
Class 4A-Suburban: 1893 and up – 68 schools
Class 3A-Suburban: 1443-1892 – 68 schools
Class 2A-Suburban: 601-1442 – 68 schools
Class 1A-Suburban: 600 and below – 30 schools

Rural
Class 1A-Rural: 600 and below – 33 schools

Appeals Process
It appears the current due process for appeals will be used what would allow schools to appeal their placement with Sectional Appeals and the Board of Directors but is subject to change depending on what the final version of the policy looks like.

Policy 13 Implications (Playoffs)

Qualifications for Playoffs
4A-2A (Metro & Suburban): 4 regions, 16 districts – district play required – District Champions advance, next 4 at-large in each region advance

1A (Metro, Suburban & Rural): 4 regions, no districts – Top 6 in each region advance

CHANGE TO PLAYOFF RANKINGS

The FHSAA Board of Directors approved the change of how the rankings are handled for football moving away from the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings, which had been in place since the 2019 season, to the FHSAA Power Rankings which is handled by MaxPreps.

The FHSAA Power Rankings uses MaxPreps’ proprietary formula minus using a margin of victory in the formula which is currently used in other FHSAA team sports currently.

As explained the FHSAA Power Rankings use the MaxPreps formula uses unlimited amounts of data basically explained as an infinite number of times on how deep the data will look at results of games across an entire season while factoring in the strength of schedule and other unknown components minus using a margin of victory.

The vote for the change to the playoff ranking system was passed unanimously by the Board of Directors with a 16-0 vote with the changes going into effect this fall.