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FHSAA is blinded by money

The Florida High School Activities Association is trying some new things to drum up more interest in prep sports, and to some degree, that's commendable.

Yet, I'm baffled by many of the FHSAA's money-making schemes I mean, plans.

My biggest gripe is with the classification system. Why is it necessary to have six classes and six state champions in nearly every sport?

This dilutes the level of competition and devalues the meaning of a state championship.

College recruiter: "So you're a state champ?"

Athlete: "Yes sir, best in the state."

Recruiter: "You're a running back, right? What's your 40 time?"

Athlete: "Five-flat, sir."

Uh, right. The running back might have added that he was a state champion in one class that had just 56 of the state's nearly 500 high schools.

Believe it or not, there was a time when there were just two classes. As the state grew, it was upped to three and then four. But the recent addition of fifth and sixth classes has zipped far ahead of the need.

Take a look at the district membership in some sports and you'll find just two or three schools. That's ridiculous, especially considering that the top two teams in each district advance in the playoffs. The classes and districts are spread too thin.

I have a particular gripe with how prep wrestling is classified. I have been to district tournaments in which athletes have received byes straight into the finals because there weren't enough qualifiers to even have a semifinal bracket.

Then the top four in each weight class from the regionals advance to state, where five different tournaments take place (Class A and 2A are combined). And in some classes there, more byes are issued due to the lack of regional qualifiers.

What's the purpose of crowning so many champions, whose accomplishments are diminished because of thin competition? Why not combine 6A and 5A, 4A and 3A, and have these athletes face a true test?

It's money, of course. The more districts, the more regionals and the more state tourneys, the more admission money there is to rake in. The heck with the quality of competition. Folks will pay to see their kids play.

The FHSAA is taking the money-making concept a step further this upcoming season. The district runner-up in most every sport will now advance to the regional playoffs. Previously, just major sports such as football, basketball, baseball and softball used the plan, and then, it was still a stretch.

It reminds me of the NHL and NBA, where nearly every team makes the playoffs. Under the FHSAA format, 32 of 96 schools in classes 4, 5 and 6A will advance, as well as 32 of 56 in 3A. The more, the merrier. And the more, the monier.

Problem is, this isn't the NBA or the NHL. It's high school sports for kids. Money should be secondary to serving the kids' interest.

Take football. It starts in May with four weeks of spring practice. In early August, the players return for an 11-game season (12 weeks, with a bye) counting the kickoff classic preseason game.

And if a school finishes first or second in its district, it advances to the regional quarterfinals. That's 12 games. Then there are the semis and regional final. That's 13 and 14.

Then there is the state semifinals, matching the four region champs. That's 15 games. And if your team is fortunate to survice the semifinals and can still stand for the state championship, that's Game No. 16, about a week from Christmas.

That might be great for the NFL, but these are high school children who have classes, jobs and, supposedly, a social life. Heck, the NCAA football champion only has to play 12 games.

I say: Class, dismissed. It's time to reorganize, downsize and restructure.

But no. That would cost too much money.

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