Jason Dill

Let teams have home field advantage in high school football playoffs

Braden River senior, Raymond Thomas, runs toward the end zone on Friday, November 11, 2016 at Naples Gulf Coast High School in the Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinals. HERALD FILE PHOTO.
Braden River senior, Raymond Thomas, runs toward the end zone on Friday, November 11, 2016 at Naples Gulf Coast High School in the Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinals. HERALD FILE PHOTO.

In last week’s playoff opener, the Braden River High varsity football team didn’t face one opponent.

The Pirates battled two: Naples Gulf Coast and the Sharks’ band.

The former put up little fight, with Braden River holding a 37-0 lead before the Sharks scored three times in the final minutes against the Pirates’ second-team defense.

The latter, well, they kept going and going on every single Braden River offensive possession.

That’s not uncommon as bands, like cheerleaders, provide some entertainment on Friday nights.

However, Gulf Coast’s band didn’t play any tunes from the stands, but on the field behind one of the end zones.

“We’ve never experienced anything like that,” Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said after the game.

It was a first for Bradley, and it’s a rare view come playoff time under the Florida High School Athletic Association umbrella.

Last season, Braden River earned home playoff games in the first two rounds and it was Region 3’s turn to host a state semifinal.

With football fields staying the same width and length, home field advantage rests with the atmosphere created each Friday night in the playoffs.

But the FHSAA doesn’t believe in home field advantage. Rather, the state association decrees the home side is a host school.

Neutrality is the goal and it pops up in the FHSAA football under Rule 10.8, which reads:

“It is the responsibility of the host school to ensure that an atmosphere of neutrality is maintained in all Florida High School State Championship Series events. Such events are not ‘home contests’ for the host schools. Special festivities held as part of, or in conjunction with, regular season home contests (i.e., pregame activities designed to rally support for the home team, such as light shows, or giving special recognition to members of the home team) are not permitted during the Florida High School State Championship Series.”

It’s why Braden River’s march to the program’s first football state semifinal appearance, which came with three of its four games at home, didn’t feature the trademark giant inflatable Pirates helmet or the Metallica song, “Enter Sandman,” prior to each game taking place.

Those two features energized Section E, Braden River’s student section, and the players on the field.

They’re a no-no under the FHSAA guidelines that seek a neutral venue, despite every game last week that saw the home side earning that right to host through a district title and the road team not earning that right as a district runner-up.

It’s a misstep to seek neutrality, but if that is the law then so be it.

That brings up what happened last Friday with the Braden River offense dealing with Gulf Coast’s band blaring horns, trombones and other musical instruments anywhere no more than 10 yards when the Pirates were attempting to score on that side of the stadium.

“It was definitely a challenge and hard to hear,” Braden River quarterback Louis Colosimo said after the game. “Everybody did a great job of staying locked in, (but) it was definitely a challenge.”

The FHSAA says there’s no rule that says when or where a band can or cannot play. In fact, there’s no rule pertaining to bands during the state series at all. Well, that’s fine if there’s such a thing as home field advantage.

But since Rule 10.8 exists, letting a band perform on the field as close to the action as Gulf Coast’s was to affect performance on the field goes directly against the neutrality mindset.

Sure, there are loopholes: some fields have artificial turf instead of grass and there is student section seating directly behind an end zone.

The latter is what Braden River faces this week in a second matchup at Venice this season. Venice’s students, who dotted the back of the east end zone, came equipped with thunder sticks to create more noise. Well, that shouldn’t be present this time around, as the FHSAA football manual’s Rule 3.1.4 explains the prohibition against noisemakers.

It reads: “Whistles, or artificial noise-making devises that mimic or simulate a game whistle, air horns, and all other artificial or mechanical noise-making devises, are prohibited in all Florida High School State Championship Series events.”

Regardless, the FHSAA just needs to be clear throughout. If neutrality is the goal, then ban any perceived home field advantages in the playoffs for host schools. If it’s not, then open the floodgates and let remain things that don’t have an impact on the game like running through a tunnel, smoke created from a machine or walk-up music.