The Florida High School Athletic Association will determine if it will mandate a cutback in the number of games played in all high school sports, except for football in April.
Those varsity teams will have their seasons reduced by 20 percent. Hardest hit will be junior varsity and freshman sports teams, cutting games back 40 percent. Preseason and tournament games will not count in the mix and varsity football will remain at 10 games.
The FHSAA Board proposed the suggestion due to the economy. Football is a money maker and supports the other sports, the board and area school officials agreed.
Those hardest it are sports where they were already playing a shorter season. Varsity cross country, swimming and track and field will go from 13 to 11. Sports with the most games, baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball, will go from 25 to 20.
At the JV level, football is the hardest hit, going from 10 to six games.
Lely and Naples are in the same district for basketball, soccer and volleyball where they have seven district opponents and play each twice, leaving just six non-district games. Most teams play strong non-district competition to make them better prepared for playoffs.
Ernie Mondugno, Naples High athletic director, who is on the FHSAA Board and will vote on the proposal.
Mondugno, who has not decided on his vote, said that teams reduced to 20 games, might consider reducing playing district opponents to once each, instead of twice.
Lely Principal Ken Fairbanks and Athletic Director Paul Ruby don’t care for that suggestion. Both used basketball as an example.
“While it will be harder to play area schools that are not in the district, it seems unfair and could affect the outcome of the district playoff draw,” Fairbanks said. “Our football team made the playoffs and the new county all-star game made it more difficult for the basketball team. If they only played one game and the game came early we could have been at a disadvantage.”
Ruby says playing each school in basketball twice helps cover costs and makes it fairer for all teams.
“First of all who gets the home game if you only play each team once,” he asked. “Naples is a good draw. If it gets the home game it would hurt our budget. It also means we would lose money in concessions. We also had players missing because of football and the team was not a at full strength.”
Don Stewart, Lely basketball often bemoaned that he lost about four weeks into the season, which hurt the teams preparation. Once the team was together, and all players healthy, Stewart’s Trojans went on a seven-game win streak that led them into the Region 3 title game and the elite eight in the state in Class 4A.
Fairbanks and Ruby agree that JV football in particular should not be reduced to just six games.
“Players work hard in the spring and summer to prepare for the football season, Fairbanks said. “Six games is not enough of a reward, nor enough to help make a quality football program.”
A suggestion on having participants pay a fee to play was not acceptable to Fairbanks and Ruby.
Joe Kemper, coordinator of Student Drug Testing and Interscholastic Athletics Collier County Public Schools, said some northern Florida school districts have pay to play plans. However, such a plan normally comes with discounts for sub-varsity sports and multi-sport participation and caps on family expenses.
“Some northern schools that have pay to pay plans waive the fee for those on free or reduced lunches, which would substantially reduce the economic impact at many schools,” he said. “The schools that need the help most would get the least benefit.”
If the number of games are reduced Fairbanks hopes that it will allow more time between seasons.
“There needs to be a down time so that players can get a rest before going into the next season,” he said. “They need time to get their strength back and to get into shape for the next sport season. We had some illnesses that I think can be attributed to seasons overlapping.”
The new seven-period class schedule beginning next school year also can be helped by time between sports and fewer games.
“I also don’t agree with long-distanced travel during the week,” Fairbanks said. “Playing away games at places like La Belle and Estero on Tuesday or Thursday means the students get home late and it is not conducive to learning.”
Ruby noted that soccer teams some times play three games in a week.
He and Fairbanks agreed that education comes before sports.