GAINESVILLE — The Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors voted Monday to reduce regular-season athletic schedules by 20 percent for varsity contests and 40 percent for junior varsity contests.
The reductions, approved by a 9-6 vote, begin this fall and are in effect through the 2010-11 school year. After the two years, schedules will return to their current allotment, though the board could propose and vote to extend the reductions.
The current move reduces the regular season from 25 to 20 games in baseball, basketball, softball, soccer and volleyball. Tennis and wrestling go from 18 to 15, golf from 14 to 12, cross country, swimming, track and weightlifting from 13 to 11, flag football from 12 to 10.
Football was not affected because of the positive financial impact it has on its schools, FHSAA spokeswoman Cristina Alvarez said.
No one indicated Monday how much money — if any — this move would save school districts.
FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing, Manatee County's former superintendent, said superintendents from across the state overwhelmingly recommended schedule reductions to the FHSAA board.
Dearing said the reductions are intended to stave off elimination of JV and middle school sports. Dearing admits the reduction in athletic schedules does not ensure varsity programs won't be cut at local levels.
"Some were voting to get rid of certain sports and some were voting to get rid of certain levels," Dearing said of some school boards across the state. "…This makes it easier for them to balance their books with this voluntary reduction on the part of the (FHSAA) recognizing school districts are in financial straits."
Roughly 60 people packed the board room with coaches, administrators and community members from around the state taking turns to address the board. Some commended the FHSAA for being proactive in a tough economy, which is expected to result in teacher layoffs across the state. Some argued the board had overstepped its bounds by taking power from local school boards.
"They took political authority aggregated to school board superintendents and they ran with it and that's not their job," said Art Bautista, booster president for Gainesville High softball. "They may legally have the right to make that decision, but they do not have the moral or ethical grounds to do it and they should not take on someone else's political power to make a decision about kids."
Dearing argued that the FHSAA was acting within its bounds in terms of setting the maximum number of contests.
"We couldn't have some school boards reducing to 18 and others reducing to 23," Dearing said. "Scheduling becomes a nightmare because you don't just play the teams in your county, you play the teams in your district. It was a uniform reduction."
There were other concerns.
Discussions about the impact on regular-season tournaments and if teams could receive waivers were pushed back for later discussion, no earlier than June. The financial impact on athletic departments without football programs, and impact on counties with minimal financial problems also were discussed.
The loss of athletic contests will cut down on costs related to transportation and officials, but there will be the loss of gate receipts and concessions, among other things.
Perhaps the most alarming talk centered around club programs — such as AAU — which now have a better argument to lure elite athletes away from playing high school sports by offering more contests and greater exposure opportunities for college recruitment.
"When somebody takes something away you won't get it back," Gainesville Buchholz baseball coach David Baines said as he addressed the board. "Even if it's a two-year proposal the chances of it going back to where it was is probably not going to be very good. …I would hate to see these people already making a lot of money off of our kids convince them high school athletics is not the way to go."
The board last approved a reduction (10 percent) in contests in November 2002; football was not touched. The aim was to lessen the overlap of seasons.
Athletic directors Don Bridges (Polk) and Cheryl Golden (Miami-Dade) said schools in their counties have already scaled back schedules with little backlash. They said programs continue to have success measured by postseason berths and championships.
"We wanted some uniformity," said board president and Pinellas Park athletic director Greg Zornes, who voted in favor of the reductions. "There's millions and millions of dollars being lost and people losing their jobs. Cuts are coming."
Three amendments to the policy were rejected by the board: one to reduce schedules by 10 (varsity) and 20 percent (JV); one to reduce JV to just 20 percent; one to cut schedules with a maximum 25 games to 23, and those with 18 to 16 while leaving the original 20 and 40 percent reductions for the remaining sports on the table.
FHSAA board member Jeff Malloy had suggested sending the amendment to a committee before a final vote, which would have involved longer discussion at a later date. That talk never gained momentum.
"Usually they are discussed and then typically sent to a committee before going to the board," Malloy said. "For whatever reason, this one didn't happen that way. There was probably a reason to fast track it because the schools were looking for this relief."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3458.