High school football: Answering questions about the FHSAA's metro and suburban classes

Jon Santucci
Palm Beach Post

Love it or hate it — and those seem to be the only points on the spectrum — the Florida High School Athletic Association will have metro and suburban classifications for football in 2022 and 2023.

The eight most-densely populated counties (Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Pinellas, Palm Beach and Seminole) will be split into four metro classes. The rest of the state’s 59 counties — except for the rural programs — will be split into four suburban classes.

Here’s a quick rundown of how we got here, what comes next and answers to other questions or complaints that have been raised since Monday’s vote.

How did we get here?

Gibbons cornerback Adonis Allen (12) displays the a champion's medal during the Class 4A State Championship game between Cardinal Gibbons and Cocoa at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Dec.16, 2021.

The combination of having a bigger pool of student-athletes to draw from coupled with the Open Enrollment Act has allowed the metro schools to dominate. In the past 10 years, metro-area schools have won 89% of the state football championships outside the 1A rural class.

The FHSAA’s football advisory committee has voted unanimously the past two years to split the state into metro and suburban classes. The FHSAA’s Athletic Director Advisory Committee voted 8-7 against the endorsing the proposal in 2021 but reversed course by a single vote in January.

Despite the recommendation of FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn to reject the proposal, the Board of Directors voted 9-7 Monday to pass the measure and split the classes.

What’s next?

The FHSAA currently is working on the districts and classes, which could be announced at the end of the month.

Here’s the breakdown:

Metro: 4A (schools with an enrollment over 2,356), 3A (enrollment between 1,675-2,35), 2A (enrollment between 601-1,674), 1A (enrollment under 600)

Suburban: 4A (school’s with an enrollment over 1,893), 3A (enrollment between 1,443-1,892), 2A (enrollment between 601-1,442), 1A (enrollment under 600)

Won’t that mean all the good teams will be in metro classes?

The easy answer? Absolutely not.

Buchholz High School quarterback Creed Whittemore (2) runs during a game between Buchholz and the Leon Lions at Citizens Field in Gainesville on Oct. 1, 2021.

Barring appeals, Suburban 4A will include Bartram Trail, Buchholz, Lake Gibson, Lakeland, Lehigh, Melbourne, Niceville, Nease, Kissimmee-Osceola, Palmetto, Sarasota-Riverview, Treasure Coast, Venice, Vero Beach and Viera.

In just the past two years, those teams have combined for a state championship and seven Final Four appearances.

Will the majority of the recent state champions be in the metro classes? Yes. But that certainly doesn’t mean the suburban classes won't have outstanding programs.

You mentioned appeals …

The FHSAA has not allowed schools to appeal their classes or districts the past two cycles. It appears teams will be allowed to appeal this time.

What that means and what it considers remain to be seen. Venice coach John Peacock tweeted Wednesday that his school would appeal to go into the metro classes.

It seems like an uphill battle as that would theoretically allow St. Thomas Aquinas or Miami Northwestern to petition to play in a suburban class.

What’s more likely is schools on the outskirts of a metro county appeal to go rural or suburban. Pahokee, Glades Central and Glades Day in Palm Beach County fit those criteria.

Can teams leave the FHSAA if they’re unhappy?

This is a threat that’s been raised by several South Florida coaches. It’s not clear how that would happen though.

Florida Statute 1006.20 reads; "The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) is designated as the governing nonprofit organization of athletics in Florida public schools. If the FHSAA fails to meet the provisions of this section, the commissioner shall designate a nonprofit organization to govern athletics with the approval of the State Board of Education.”

It doesn’t appear that public schools have a choice. The FHSAA allowed Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties to have a tri-team playoff during 2020, but that was considered a COVID exception.

The School Board of Miami-Dade County voted unanimously in 2020 to explore withdrawing its public schools from the FHSAA, but it's unclear how that would have worked.

Private schools are not forced to be FHSAA members, and several programs currently play in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference.

Has the FHSAA failed to meet any provisions?

It’s hard to see how it has, at least in this case. Programs or coaches being unhappy doesn’t mean that FHSAA did things the wrong way. The Board of Directors didn’t just do this on a whim. It went through two different committees two consecutive years before the board voted.

A lawyer certainly could go through things with a fine-tooth comb and poke holes in the process, but it seems like things were done according to the rules.

What about House Bill 443?

In the simplest terms, House Bill 443 would allow the State Board of Education to approve other athletic associations. Theoretically, it would allow the FHSAA to have competition.  

Things don’t look good for 443’s passage during this legislative calendar. No action has been taken on the bill since Feb. 11 and the last day of the Regular Session is Friday March 11.

There’s also the question of whether Gov. Ron DeSantis would even sign the bill.