Ridaught: New FHSAA format benefits some, not all

Volleyball on court with dark background
Gary MilnerviaCanva

When the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) hosted its volleyball bracket release show this past Saturday night, district champions knew they would hear their name called as the brackets were announced.

But this year it came with some surprises.

For example, in Class 1A, Glades Day (Belle Glade) won the Class 1A-District 8 title with a sweep of top seed Williston. The Gators (14-10) are in the postseason as district champions. 

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However, they will travel for the regional semifinals this Friday and play another district champion on the road.

That’s because the FHSAA seeded schools for the upcoming regional tournaments using the FHSAA Power Ranking, which is a version of the MaxPreps rankings.

In Class 1A, the two district tournament champions and the next two highest ranked teams per regional bracket, based on the final FHSAA Power Rankings, advanced. Then the teams were seeded 1-4.

Strength of schedule during the regular season mattered.

Glades Day, the No. 3 seed in 1A-Region 4, will travel to No. 2 seed Dixie County (Cross City), which defeated top seed Newberry, 3-2, to win the 1A-District 7 title.

“I guess in this instance it worked to our benefit, but in the district seeding it did not help us,” said first-year Dixie County coach James Bendel Jr., who returned a strong nucleus from last year’s state semifinal team. “In the future, this will definitely change the way coaches set up the schedule for their teams. As far as liking the system or not does not matter, it is what we currently use and you have to decide the risk reward of wins and losses vs the strength of the opponent.” 

Bendel thinks this will “make it tougher to play teams you may have traditionally played over the years looking to build a better strength of schedule.” 

“There is good and bad in both and I have no doubt they will change it as soon as everyone figures it out,” he said.

Despite a losing record, Newberry (11-15) made the postseason by finishing fourth in the region based on its schedule.

“Our strength of schedule, with playing (6A) Buchholz and seven teams who made the playoffs in different classifications, got us in over Chiefland and Wildwood,” Newberry coach Hank Rone said. “Chiefland has a good argument to get in also with their last half of the season and so much success.”

The Indians (12-11) finished the season strong by winning eight of their final nine regular season games. However, their season ended with a 3-0 loss to Dixie County in the 1A-District 7 semifinals.

Chiefland was on the outside looking in with a No. 5 ranking.

“I like the rankings system when we all play close to as many games,” Rone said. “But I think it needs to be 20 games or a percentage, and all teams post their scores, which in our region we did. Other regions, I think some teams got overlooked, won more games and had a harder strength of schedule.”

Case in point is Bell High School.

The Bulldogs (14-11) were left out in 1A-Region 3 after getting swept by Union County (Lake Butler) in the 1A-District 6 semifinals.

Hilliard (9-5) got the nod (4.655 – 4.438 FHSAA rating) for the No. 4 seed instead of No. 5 seed Bell despite playing 11 less games and not having as strong a schedule as the Bulldogs (2.82 – 0.70).

“Bell, I believe, should have been in,” Rone said. “It is almost like you get penalized for playing more games. Look at 3A, PK Yonge wins the district and doesn’t host a first round, going to Trinity Catholic (Ocala).”

Rone noted that district championships should carry more weight. 

“I think it is wrong not to host round one because all the hard work you put in to win a district title,” he said. “You should host at least your first round of playoffs, then go to the highest ranked team for the next round.”

Williston (17-10), which is the No. 1 seed in 1A-Region 4 despite the district championship game loss, will host Newberry this Friday in the regional semifinals.

“I love the new format of the rankings for the playoffs,” said first-year Williston coach Kevin Tiller. “It rewards teams like us for playing a tougher schedule and getting better from that.”

The Red Devils played 2A-District 4 champion Oak Hall School, which earned the No. 1 seed in 2A-Region 1, and The Rock locally, and they played Class 4A North Marion (Citra), 6A Oakleaf (Orange Park), 4A Beachside (St. Johns), 7A Spruce Creek (Port Orange), and 6A Matanzas (Palm Coast) at the River City Tournament in Jacksonville. 

“We have spent the whole year with a strong strength of schedule and it definitely paid off for us on Saturday night when the rankings came out,” Tiller said. “Always great to play at the Devils Den.”

For classes 2A-7A, qualifying teams were seeded 1-8 per regional bracket based on the final FHSAA Power Rankings, with the highest ranked team named the one (1) seed.

Columbia (Lake City), which lost to Vanguard (Ocala) in the 5A-District 2 semifinals, missed the playoffs despite an overall record of 17-9. 

The Tigers finished ninth in 5A-Region 1, behind 11-16 Arnold (Panama City Beach) because the Marlins had a much stronger strength of schedule (12.23-2.36).

Oak Hall coach Perry McDonald has mixed emotions about the new playoffs format.

“First and foremost it definitely does a good job trying to identify the top eight teams in each region and it is certainly a better and more accurate system than the old method of allowing each district Champion and district runner-up to advance,” he said. “The shortcoming is that it is probably misguided to think that the MaxPrep algorithm can accurately rank the actions of a group of teenage girls or boys between ages 13-18 over the course of an entire three month season much the same way it was misguided for NCAA Football to think that six different computerized ranking systems were needed to accurately gage the best teams in the college football landscape for the BCS rankings a few years ago.” 

McDonald said he liked the seeding based on strength of performance but feels that “winning a district championship should be worth something meaningful in the seeding process.”

“It seems a little generous for St John’s Country Day (Orange Park), who lost their district, to get a home match and a top 3 seed while St. John Paul II, a district champion, has to travel to play Oak Hall, the No. 1 overall seed, at Oak Hall,” McDonald said. “It would seem more appropriate if the district champions all received the home field advantage in the first round by receiving the top four seeds.”

A total of 11 teams in the Mainstreet coverage area advanced in the postseason, with defending 4A state champion Santa Fe (Alachua), Oak Hall School, and Williston serving as No. 1 seeds in their respective classifications. Dixie County (Cross City) and Union County (Lake Butler) will host 1A regional semifinals matches.

Countryside Christian (2A), P.K. Yonge, Keystone Heights (4A), and Gainesville (6A) will be on the road for the first round, along with Branford and Newberry in 1A.

The 2A-4A regional quarterfinals begin on Tuesday, followed by the 5A-7A regional quarterfinals on Wednesday.

The regional semifinals for 1A-4A are this Friday, while the 5A-7A regional semifinals are on Saturday.

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