High School Sports

Commentary | Manatee athletic director furious over new FHSAA classification rules he says will hurt Canes

A new FHSAA rule that would increase classifications in most sports will isolate Manatee High and create unnecessary logistical problems and costs, the Hurricanes' athletic director said.

"I absolutely hate what they've done. They said they did it to to help the small schools, but they are hurting the big schools," said Jason Montgomery, who once served on the FHSAA basketball advisory committee.

The measure would increase baseball and softball classifications from eight to nine in the next school year and include basketball and volleyball for the 2016-17 school year. Football would likely go to nine classifications in three years.

"It waters down the competition and further isolates us because we have the largest population of any school in Manatee County," Montgomery said. "We are going to be one of the smaller 9A schools, and it's going to be tough, especially with the travel."

Under the plan, Class 9A would be for schools with a population of 2,407 and more. Montgomery said Manatee has a school population of 2,411.

"If you had fewer classifications, there would be more schools in your geographical area, There are different ways to approach the problem than to add more classifications," Montgomery said.

Manatee could petition to stay in Class 8A, but Montgomery says the likely outcome would be based on geographical considerations. He is not sure how that would play out.

The FHSAA said the new measures were adopted to reduce the large population gaps that existed between schools in the current 2A, 3A and 4A classifications. Student enrollment for 4A for baseball and softball has been from 466 to 1,208 and in 3A from 162 to 465, which some said led to competitive imbalance.

There were 81 schools in 4A. Under the new rule, there would be between 50 to 55 schools in each classification from 2A through 4A, and those classifications will have eight districts rather than the current 16. Population ranges are projected to be 162-378 in Class 3A and 379-738 in 4A.

"We are dealing with a generation now that everybody should have a trophy, and now we are starting to do it with high school athletes where we should be teaching work ethics and how to play as a team," Montgomery said.

Here is how the rest of the new classification for baseball and softball will look in 2015-16 school year: 5A, 739-1358; 6A, 1,359-1,700; 7A, 1,701-2,039; 8A, 2,040-2,406 and 9A, 2,407 and above.

Area schools population as reported by the FHSAA: Manatee 2,411, Lakewood Ranch 2,303, Palmetto 2,038 Braden River 1,993,

Bayshore 1,481 and Southeast 1,456. Schools 4A and lower: Cardinal Mooney 501, Out-Of-Door Academy 248, Saint Stephen's 234, Bradenton Christian 183.

Under the new rule for baseball and softball based on available numbers, Manatee would move from 8A to 9A, Lakewood Ranch from 7A to 8A, Palmetto and Braden River stay at 7A, Bayshore and Southeast from 5A to 6A. Cardinal Mooney would go from 3A to 4A; ODA, BCS and Saint Stephen's remain 3A.

Montgomery said he believes only Texas and California crown more state champions than Florida.

"I come from a state (Kentucky) where there is only one state basketball champion, and it's worked out fine," he said.

'Day in sun' for D-III

If you ever walked into a high school signing day ceremony and wondered what was going on, you are not alone.

It has become fashionable for schools to hold what some call celebratory signing days to the point that it spurred a national debate, which led the NCAA to intervene.

Only students signing with Division I or II schools sign Letters of Intent as designed by the NCAA. The NCAA does not allow LOI for Division III schools because those athletes are not getting financial aid to play a sport.

The parents of Division III-bound students say their kids are left out, though the rule is put in to protect them. Letters of Intent bind the student to a school, and the NCAA says it's not fair to a student to sign a binding LOI when he or she is not getting financial aid to play a sport. It would not allow them to sign with a Division I or II school if they received a scholarship offer later, which happens.

It's against NCAA rules for a Division III-bound student to sign anything relating to their plans to play sports at a particular college so what some of those kids are signing is anybody's guess. Often the students sign a blank piece of paper or an admission agreement with a particular college.

Recently, the NCAA Division III membership voted to approve the use of a non-binding standardized celebratory form, which can be signed by a student after he or she has been accepted to that Division III institution. The use of the form is optional, but only a standardized form provided by the NCAA will be permissible for a "signing ceremony."

The form can be used anytime after Aug. 1 as long as the prospect has been accepted for enrollment to the college. There is no signing date or signing period for use of the form.

Palmetto High athletic director Ken Ansbro and Montgomery like the idea.

"The bottom line is this should be about the kids, and anytime you can celebrate a student-athlete it's a good thing," Ansbro said. "I would just like to have some kind of communication from the college coach that the kid plans to go to the school. But as far as putting a name on a celebratory form, what harm is there? You can glorify a Division I player, and there is no guarantee they are going to play at that particular school."

Ansbro and Montgomery have used various forms for students who are not going the traditional NCAA Division I or II route.

The NAIA has forms to sign, but they only bind NAIA schools and don't take effect until the student is at the school. Junior colleges have letters of intent, but they do not bind a student to a JUCO if he or she gets an offer from an NCAA or NAIA school.

"I like the (new) rule because signing day is a big deal for a kid," Montgomery said. "There were kids we signed that weren't on an athletic scholarship, and we had them sign something like an admission contract with the school. The new form is non-binding, but it gives a chance for a kid to have his day in the sun."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.