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FHSAA could cut back on games

High school coaches are facing a 20 percent reduction in schedules.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002

High school coaches are facing a 20 percent reduction in schedules.

As Vernon Korhn sees it, a shorter schedule is a hard sell for some, a no-brainer for others, but ultimately a necessary sacrifice.

"You're not going to make everybody happy, no matter what you decide to do," said Korhn, director of athletics for Hillsborough County.

Coaches across the state are up in arms and administrators are applauding a proposal by Florida High School Activities Association commissioner Bob Hughes that could result in a 20 percent reduction in the number of regular-season contests allowed in most sports beginning next year.

"The reaction has been all over the world, from A to Z," Hughes said Monday. "It's a lot of diverging viewpoints and mixed reactions. Some think we're not lowering it enough, and others say, no, we should be adding to our schedules."

By cutting the number of games allowed, Hughes hopes to address three areas of concern from school administrators: time students spend out of school while attending athletic events, overlap between seasons for coaches and athletes involved in more than one sport and the cost of travel.

Advisory committees for each sport have two months to consider the proposal and counter with solutions. The FHSAA's board of directors will discuss the proposed revision at a meeting this weekend, and all the differing factions have two months to work out an agreement before the board votes in November.

"As far as phone calls and e-mails I've received, it's been pretty upsetting to a lot of coaches," said Jesuit baseball coach John Crumbley, chairman of the state baseball coaches advisory committee. "Our stance is that we're in Florida, which is a baseball state, so why, when everyone else is increasing schedules, are we looking for ways to decrease ours?"

Crumbley's committee met three weeks ago and wrote that the cuts were "an injustice to the baseball players, coaches and fans," and in addressing financial concerns, pointed out that baseball is often a fiscally self-sufficient program. The committee's recommendation is to keep the current maximum of 28 games (instead of the proposed 22) but play those games on no more than 22 dates, and no more than one per week requiring any loss of school time.

Other sports are unhappy with the prospect of losing scheduling flexibility. Volleyball is subject to the same restrictions as baseball, softball and basketball, though its teams are more capable of playing two or three matches in a day during tournaments.

"I'm having a hard time understanding why they can't address each sport uniquely," said Paul McAdoo, Tampa Prep coach and a member of the FHSAA's advisory committee. "We can play more matches without increasing our travel. And no bylaw says you have to play all 28 matches. To limit everyone because of one group, it seems disappointing."

McAdoo said he would accept a shorter calendar but no reduction in matches. The FHSAA is proposing the opposite: Volleyball season would start one week earlier and finish as normal, stretching six fewer matches over one extra week. A common overlap would remain unchanged, with the first day of girls basketball practice coming one day before volleyball's region playoffs begin.

Hughes said he made his proposals after more than a year of research and consideration. He was approached by the Florida Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association in spring 2001 and asked to look into schedule reductions. He won't estimate the statewide savings in travel expenses, but with almost 600 schools in his organization and reductions adding up to nearly 50 fewer events each year at some schools, the fiscal benefits could be substantial.

To compare their numbers with other states, the FHSAA researched the average schedule limitations across the country, discovering that Florida "was on the high side" in most sports, Hughes said.

Korhn, a district director for the FIAAA, said: "There's no question that the budget plays a part in needing to do this, but there are a lot of principals around the state who see there are kids who are out two or three nights a week with athletic events because you're putting 28 games into a sports season that's probably eight or nine weeks long. Obviously, it's something that needs to be looked at."

Cuts would impact teams most in their flexibility to play in tournaments, often a better preparation for the playoffs than local competition. The Hooters Holiday Shootout, one of the area's biggest basketball tournaments each December, would likely have to change from its current 16-team format.

"I think (the proposal) would be devastating to this event," said Matt Ramker, the tournament's team selection chairman. "We'll be able to survive, but it'll definitely hurt the smaller tournaments. I think kids need to play and play often, and events like these get kids good exposure. If it's a budget situation, they have to do something to rectify that, but I'm not going to let this ruling ruin our event."

Ramker said this year's field will include Orlando Edgewater, one of the top teams in the country, but that might not be the case next year if the proposal is approved. Edgewater is locked into 19 games for district and conference play, and with a new maximum of 22 instead of 28, it would be limited to three additional games, one fewer than the top teams in the Hooters tournament end up playing.

One of the few sports not addressed by the cuts is football, but its season was shortened last year when a bye week was removed. Other sports will have abbreviated schedules: swimming and diving would go from 15 meets to 12, but also would have one less week of preseason practice and would shorten the regular season by three weeks.

Many counties have absorbed some of the proposed cuts by making restrictions to meet their own budgetary needs. Pasco County imposed a 10 percent reduction for this school year to help meet a goal of cutting $5,000 from each high school's athletic expenses.

Advisory committees will submit proposals in an effort to reach a compromise, but some members believe that because the reductions were submitted by the commissioner, they have the support needed for implementation.

"The word I'm hearing is that it's already a done deal," Crumbley said. "If that's true, it doesn't matter what anyone on the bottom end of it thinks, be it the coaches or the kids."

"Right now, it's nothing more than a recommendation, and without that, there's nothing for people to respond to," Hughes said. "The budget is a real problem for a lot of schools, and they've told us they'd rather cut back on games then get rid of junior varsity or freshman teams. I'm confident the board will make a change from what we have in place, but how broad-reaching that is, I don't have a clue. There's an understanding that something needs to be done."

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