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Despite FHSAA's reversal, high school schedules still could be cut

WESLEY CHAPEL — When the state's prep sports governing body voted Wednesday to rescind a previous decision to reduce schedules in most sports, the initial response from local coaches was celebratory.

But the ensuing reaction could be more subdued.

Locally, schedules still could be reduced. Coaching supplements could be further trimmed. And while unlikely, some sports could be abolished.

Nothing is out of the realm of possibility. There is, after all, still a budget crisis.

Prompted by a gender equity lawsuit, the Florida High School Athletic Association voted Wednesday to restore the maximum number of regular-season contests to 25 for most team sports.

The original decision to trim schedules (in all sanctioned sports except football) was a uniform effort to offset Florida's budget woes.

Now the onus is upon individual school districts to find ways to trim athletic budgets.

"It's important for folks to know," Pasco County athletic director Phil Bell said, "that those (25 games) are maximums."

Bell, who presided over a December brainstorming session with county principals and athletic directors on cost-cutting ideas, said he has spoken with school district officials about Thursday's decision.

The ultimate decision on what athletic cuts — if any — must be made will rest with superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her staff, Bell said. At that December get-together, the ADs and principals voted to suggest abolishing spring football, a proposal that never formally passed.

Now that idea might be revisited.

"There have been some good points that some folks have made in that we're looking at all sorts of ways to save dollars," Bell said. "We've done some of that, and we'll have to relook."

Currently, Bell said, the school district finances each school's coaching supplements and helps cover other expenses such as transportation and officials. The schools foot the bill for remaining costs, ideally allowing them to schedule as many contests — or as many as allowed by the FHSAA — as they can afford.

If, say, the money allotted to each school is reduced, county-wide athletic programs would face a greater financial burden.

"I think it's up to us to manage our programs like we should," Pasco High athletic director Jim Ward said.

"If your team wants to go to Flagler (Palm Coast) High School to play a game, no, that should be on that team or its booster club or whatever to pay for. I'm hoping we'll be smart enough to play games we need to play. … You've got to play your rivalries that are going to draw your gates home and away that will make money for both schools."

In Hernando County, where the school district also helps finance its athletic programs, the future also is unclear. Two ADs, Hernando's John Palmer and Nature Coast's Travis Lamle, said Wednesday's FHSAA vote should allow them to schedule more contests across the board than originally planned.

But the cuts will have to originate from somewhere. And they'll have to be Title IX compliant.

"There will be 67 districts making 67 different decisions on how they will support athletics," FHSAA board member Tim Wilder said Wednesday. "Some will cut games on their own, and other districts will be able to take advantage.

"To me, that's inequality. It's a shame it's come to this."

Despite FHSAA's reversal, high school schedules still could be cut 07/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 16, 2009 10:14pm]

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