For the final time, the Florida High School Athletic Association hopes, the last Friday of the regular season was devoid of any meaning.
Next fall, every game will matter under a revamped playoff format that will only guarantee playoff spots to district champions. For everyone else, a win during the final weekend of the season — and wins or losses by teams they played earlier during the year — could alter postseason fates.
Had the new system been in place this year, this weekend would have been a stress-filled one for Manatee County teams. No county teams won their districts this season. Manatee, Braden River and Southeast are all going on the road next week as district runners-up. Only one of them would still be playing if the new format were in place.
Keep in mind, however, programs didn’t have an incentive to schedule strong opponents this year, so many didn’t. The FHSAA hopes the new format will encourage playoff hopefuls to schedule other playoff hopefuls.
First, a reminder of how next year’s playoff system works. Teams are separated into four tiers based upon their winning percentage at the end of the year. Wins against the top tier are worth 50 points and losses are worth 35. As teams move down the tiers, point values scale by five — wins against the lowest tier, for example, are worth 35 and losses are worth 20.
The points are used to determine two things: Seeding for district champions and wild cards for each region. District champions are guaranteed a top four seed in their region, but seeded according to points. The four final playoff spots are given to the next four highest scoring teams from each region’s four districts regardless of standing within the district. One district, theoretically, could account for all four wild card spots. Often districts will now be limited to one playoff team.
Tiebreakers are determined by head-to-head results, then victories against top-tier teams. The playoff format is more fully detailed on the FHSAA website.
The playoff teams
Applying the playoff format to this year’s playoff teams from Manatee County yields surprising results. The Canes would be the only team from the county in — as the No. 5 seed in Class 8A-Region 2.
No. 1 Kissimmee Osceola (10-0, 42.5 average power points) (Class 8A-District 7 champion)
No. 2 Vero Beach (9-0, 41.111) (Class 8A-District 8 champion)
No. 3 Sarasota Riverview (8-1, 38.889) (Class 8A-District 6 champion)
No. 4 Orlando Dr. Phillips (8-2, 38) (Class 8A-District 5 champion)
No. 5 Manatee (7-3, 39) (second in Class 8A-6)
No. 6 Davenport Ridge Community (7-2, 38.333) (second in Class 8A-7)
No. 7 Fort Pierce Central (6-4, 36.667) (third in Class 8A-8)
No. 8 Palm Harbor University (6-3, 36.111) (third in Class 8A-6)
Palm Harbor would sneak in to the final playoff spot in the region based on a tiebreaker with Treasure Coast. Both teams finished with an average of 36.111 points, but Palm Harbor’s win against Riverview was the only for either school against a top-tier program.
The Canes would still go to Orlando for the first round to face Dr. Phillips. Palm Harbor benefits from playing in the same district as both the Hurricanes and Rams to take the final playoff spot.
Class 7A is where perhaps the strangest results played out. Class 7A-District 11, which includes Braden River and Palmetto, has gained a reputation as one of the toughest districts in the classification. With the new playoff format, only Venice would have qualified and as the lowest-seeded district champion in Class 7A-Region 3.
No. 1 Tampa Bay Tech (8-1, 41.667 average power points) (Class 7A-District 9 champion)
No. 2 Tarpon Springs East Lake (7-1, 41.25) (Class 7A-District 10 champion)
No. 3. Naples Gulf Coast (7-3, 41.111) (Class 7A-District 12 champion)
No. 4 Venice (9-0, 40) (Class 7A-District 11 champion)
No. 5 South Fort Myers (9-1, 40) (second in Class 7A-12)
No. 6 St. Petersburg (8-1, 39.444) (second in Class 7A-10)
No. 7 Tampa Durant (8-2, 38.5) (second in Class 7A-9)
No. 8 Plant City (6-3, 37.222) (third in 7A-9)
The Pirates, who lost for the first time in more than 20 regular-season games this year, would miss out despite a one-loss season because of a weak schedule. Braden River (8-1, 36.667) didn’t have any 50-point wins and came out with 35 points in seven of its nine games. The Tigers (6-4, 36.5) fall short because of a lack of signature win. The Tigers were also hurt by Manatee’s three-loss season.
Southeast finished below .500, so it’s not a surprise that a playoff spot would be tougher for the Seminoles in Class 5A-Region 3.
No. 1 Wauchula Hardee (8-2, 38.5 average power points) (Class 5A-District 11 champion)
No. 2 Tampa Jesuit (9-0, 38.333) (Class 5A-District 10 champion)
No. 3 Fort Myers Dunbar (8-2, 37.5) (Class 5A-District 12 champion)
No. 4 St. Petersburg Lakewood (5-4, 34.444) (Class 5A-District 9 champion)
No. 5 Tampa Jefferson (6-3, 36.111) (second in Class 5A-10)
No. 6 Naples Lely (6-4, 36) (third in Class 5A-12)
No. 7 Immokalee (6-4, 34) (second in 5A-12)
No. 8 Tampa Middleton (5-5, 32) (third in 5A-10)
The Noles (4-5, 30.556) nearly sneak in because of the overall weak region, but the lack of any win worth more than 40 points keeps them out. Like Palmetto, Southeast was also hurt by an uncharacteristic down season for the Hurricanes.