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FHSAA may halve classes

Published March 30, 2004

Prep basketball crowned 12 state champions this month, but that number could be cut in half by 2006 if a proposal from coaches is passed by the Florida High School Athletics Association.

The FHSAA's Basketball Advisory Committee, comprising nine coaches voted on by peers around the state, are recommending classes be reduced from six to three for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. The proposal would combine A and 2A, as well as 3A/4A and 5A/6A.

The committee also is requesting that the plan, if implemented, be on a two-year experimental basis, or one classification cycle.

FHSAA spokesman Jack Watford said a final vote probably won't happen until November, when reclassification issues are addressed.

Coaches originally recommended fewer classes in March 2003, and the athletic directors tabled it for a year so proposals and scenarios could be constructed.

At a meeting in Gainesville on March 22, two proposals were put forth by coaches. The first option is reducing basketball from six to three classes, with 32 districts of 4-7 teams. In the current playoff system, four teams advance to the state finals; in option No. 1, eight teams would advance.

The second option calls for four classes, with 32 districts of 3-6 teams and four teams from each class advancing to the finals.

Nine coaches were present at the meeting. One abstained, five voted for the first option and three voted for the second.

Tampa Prep boys coach Joe Fenlon, who is on the Basketball Advisory Committee, said the original proposal was in response to concerns from superintendents in Jacksonville and the Panhandle, whose schools incurred great travel costs during the playoffs.

"They said that something needed to be done," Fenlon said, adding that the coaches were reacting to that. "Our idea was if it was going to happen, then this is what we'd like to see. We wanted something on record."

There has been a growing concern about some of the lopsided games and dwindling attendance for the regional and state playoffs, and it is thought the new format would create more competitive games, hence more interest.

For example, only five of the 16 Class A girls regional quarterfinal games were decided by less than 20 points, with two ending 92-7 and 65-8. And the boys Class A championship game was embarrassing as a running clock (used when the deficit reaches 35 points) had to be implemented in Northwest Christian's win over Apalachicola.

The coaches think the plan will restore competitiveness to the playoffs, create more interest in the games and result in bigger postseason crowds.

"They feel their proposal is in the best interest of the game of basketball," Watford said. "The coaches felt like the product, from a competitive standpoint, has been harmed."

Some coaches, such as Admiral Farragut's Mike Wells, think the proposals would hurt smaller schools and are not worth it.

"I'm not really for it," said Wells, who guided the Blue Jackets to this year's 2A state title. "More kids have an opportunity to go to state. What they've done the last two years is working, so why fix it? I think there are a few isolated cases (in Jacksonville) where there's been some problems. But even if it is a problem, it's an isolated problem and the majority of the state benefits from what they're doing right now."

The Athletic Directors Advisory Committee will meet next week and discuss the coaches proposal. They do not vote on it but can suggest changes before it passes on to the Board of Directors, who will meet in Tampa in June but are likely to wait until November to make a decision.

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