Column: Will this change pan out?

Change is in the wind with the Florida High School Athletic Association football playoff system.

Huge regions could replace small districts and a point system could replace head-to-head competition as the basis for selecting playoff teams, according to a report last week in the Florida Times-Union.

Goals include making every regular-season game count and eliminating tiny districts that reward bad teams. Gainesville Eastside, for instance, advanced last year despite a 1-9 record as the Rams’ one win, over Lake Weir, gave them the runnerup berth from a three-team district. 

The Times-Union story cited class 5A as an example in which 15 area schools, including Palatka, would join with those in the Panhandle for a 24-team region from which the top eight point-getters would advance. Points would be awarded on a weekly basis with bonuses for playing up in classification.

Presumably, the first three weeks of the postseason would be used to pare the regional qualifiers – seeded based on their point totals – down to a regional champion, one of four around the state.

Coaches have been asked to review the proposed changes and their input will be included in a presentation that will be made to the FHSAA board of directors June 13-14. 

As it is now – and has been for most of the last 20 years – champions and runnersup from 16 districts have qualified for the playoffs. District championships have been determined by head-to-head competition during the regular season. 

It is a system that has served the state well, frankly, even if a few 8-2 teams from strong districts were left out (like Palatka in 1998) and 2-8 teams from weak ones stumbled into the playoffs (like Crescent City in 1997).

The notion of a point system sounds new, but it isn’t.

A point system was in place in the early 1970s, when district opponents weren’t required to meet during the regular season. It worked against an 8-1 Palatka South team in 1974, when the Braves weren’t able to find a 10th game and were penalized for playing down in classification against a good Crescent City team. District rivals were able to avoid powerhouse Hastings teams that struggled to fill out a schedule, traveling as far as Tallahassee FAMU, Moore Haven and Frostproof.

How would ties be broken to determine regional seeds? What about eighth-place ties? 

If the idea is to include the worthy and weed out the unworthy, go back to system that was in place from 1999-2002, when there were 12 districts and stronger third-place teams were included to fill out a 32-team bracket. That’s how Palatka qualified in 2001, when the Panthers upset Daytona Beach Seabreeze in the first round before losing an unprecedented playoff rematch with St. Augustine.

There are double the classifications and probably double the schools playing football in Florida now than there were in the 1970s. No system is perfect, but there has to be a better reason to change than the sake of change.  (No change, incidentally, could be put in place before the 2017 season.)

It will be interesting to see how this proposal pans out.