High School Sports

Why aren’t Canes at home? We’re glad you asked

BRADENTON -- Memo to Manatee High football fans: Relax. You and your beloved Hurricanes are not getting jobbed.

Yes, Manatee is 13-0, ranked first in the state in Class 5A, second in the nation by ESPN -- and has to travel to Fort Lauderdale on Friday to play St. Thomas Aquinas in a state semifinal.

(And, yes, Manatee beat Aquinas last year).

There are no politics at play here. The Hurricanes won’t be on the road because someone from the Florida High School Athletic Association had a bad experience at The Shake Pit or got lost looking for G.T. Bray’s swimming pool.

If Aquinas was 4-9 and not even a blip on the national radar, this game would still be played in Fort Lauderdale. Why? Well, this year, in classes 5A, 3A, 1A and 1B, the FHSAA ruled before the season that the Region 4 champion gets to host the Region 3 champion in the state semifinal.

This year, that’s Aquinas.

And before you start crying foul, think back to last season: Manatee didn’t win its district while Aquinas entered the semifinal having won 37 straight games, back-to-back 5A state titles and had been named the prep national champion in 2008.

So where was last year’s game played?

That’s right -- Bradenton. And that’s because long before the 2009 season started, it was decided that the champion out of Region 3 hosted a state semifinal.

There is no homefield advantage in the FHSAA postseason -- it’s all about which side of the bracket you fall on. The only time a team controls its own destiny is in the first round, when the district champion is home and a district runner-up is on the road.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

This year, for example, the FHSAA ruled that during the regional semifinals and finals, a team on the bottom of the bracket got to host and the team on top of the bracket had to travel.

(That’s why Manatee had to travel to Palm Bay Bayside last week even though Bayside had three losses.)

Records, rankings, what happened last year, how many championships each coach has won, the capacity of the stadium, the median temperature of each team’s hometown, the creativity of each school’s cheers, the amount of fans who attended each team’s pep rally, the quality of the food in the press box -- all of that means nothing.

Fair or not, that is how it works, and in a way, maybe it makes sense. These teams rarely play the same opponents, so records aren’t the best way to decide homefield. Rankings shouldn’t be part of the criteria either because, thankfully, this is not college football, so nothing is left in the hands of voters.

Manatee has to travel Friday, and Aquinas gets to stay home. If these two teams meet in the semifinals next year, it will be the Raiders trucking their way up to Bradenton, regardless of what ESPN thinks of either team.

In the immortal words of Bruce Hornsby, that’s just the way it is.

John Lembo, Herald preps sports writer, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 2097.