Prep sports schedules up for debate today

Perhaps reducing the state’s prep sports schedules will save athletic departments money.

Perhaps it won’t.

Jeff Malloy doesn’t know for sure.

Consequently, Malloy, athletic director at Gainesville Oak Hall, who also sits on the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors, wants to take another look at it. And he would like his fellow board members to follow suit during this morning’s meeting in Orlando.

In an attempt to cut costs, the board voted in April to reduce varsity sports schedules by 20 percent and sub-varsity schedules by 40 percent. Football was excluded.

Malloy voted against the measure, which passed 9-6.

“I don’t feel we had the information necessary to pass the game reductions — for both sides,” Malloy said this week. “Maybe this is a viable change — I don’t know. I think we need more information.”

Malloy has proposed that the board suspend the reductions for 2009-10 to allow members to gather more information from the FHSAA’s member schools. Malloy wants to find out how sports departments are funded and if slashing the number of games — and therefore slashing the amount of money programs can generate from ticket sales and concessions — would do more harm than good.

“The outcry has been totally negative,” Malloy said, noting that superintendents are the few who have voiced support for the reductions. “I feel we need more information — but, more importantly, I don’t think we listened to our members.”

Southeast High girls basketball coach John Harder, opposed to the measure, is thrilled the association is discussing the issue.

“It’s something I felt from the beginning was unfair and unjust because it affected children,” he said, “and it affected the game I love.

“I’m so proud to see the state has decided to take a look at it before it’s too late. They hurried it (through), and they’re smart enough to look at it and think it may have not been the best idea on the table.”

But Roger Dearing, the FHSAA’s executive director and former superintendent for the School District of Manatee County, said the decision to cut schedules wasn’t easy — but it is necessary. Counties around the state were set to take other measures to save money, such as eliminating sub-varsity sports altogether, or doing away with sports such as baseball and softball. Reducing a uniform number of games saves sports, Dearing said, and avoids scheduling nightmares.

“Our goal was to keep all sports at all levels,” he said, “and yet help school districts and public schools manage this budget crisis we’ve been in for two years.”

According to Dearing, the average athletic program in Florida competing in Class 3A (an enrollment of at least 1,200 students) or higher fields a total of 830 athletic events per year. The cuts lower that number to a little more than 600 per year.

“I had a coach call me and say, ‘Well, how will my five baseball games make a difference?’ ” Dearing said. “Well, you’ve got to look a little higher than that ... 225 (less events), that’s got to be saving some money.”

In his proposal, Malloy listed other suggestions, such as cutting varsity schedules by 10 percent and sub-varsity schedules by 20 percent; doing away with preseason tournaments for the sports that offer them, while adding two more regular-season games to those schedules; freeing up schedules by allowing teams to play district opponents only once; and keeping the reductions intact, but allowing each team to play one tournament per season — with a maximum of five games — that would not count toward the regular-season game totals.

“I mean no disrespect to Mr. Dearing or my fellow board members,” Malloy said. “But you can’t use a broad brush with this one. I think it deserves a second look.”

Sunshine Laws have prevented Malloy from discussing his proposals with other board members, so he doesn’t have any idea how today’s vote will go.

But another board member has also offered an alternative to cutting schedules.

Russell Wambles, athletic director at Apopka High, is recommending varsity teams be allowed two extra games providing they compete in at least one FHSAA-sanctioned tournament.

“Some schools are having a very difficult time playing in their own tournament or another long-running tournament,” the proposal states, “due to game reductions, the size of their FHSAA district, whether or not their district chose to play each other twice or once ... and conference mandates.”

From a financial standpoint, Wambles said tournaments, in some cases, cost schools less than a regular-season game, and sanction fees could help the FHSAA make up for some of its lost revenue.

Dearing, however, doesn’t expect the measure to be overturned.

“I do not anticipate that happening at all,” he said. “The people who voted the first time voted their conscience, and I think they’ll do the same thing this time.”

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