Local football fans should circle Oct. 25 on their calendars, and get ready to see some new faces on the high school football field this fall.
Polk County has finalized its 2013 fall football schedules, highlighted locally by a matchup at Faris Brannen Stadium on Oct. 25 as rivals Frostproof and Fort Meade meet in what will likely be a key district contest.
The two schools will remain in the same district for the next two years. There had been much talk last fall that the two schools might drop to Class 1A because of their size, but the two will remain as Class 3A schools now.
The drop-down would be to allow Fort Meade and Frostproof to more regularly play schools their own size in student enrollment. But it also would have precipitated much lengthier bus trips for not only the football team, but potentially other school teams too, so the decision was made to stay at the 3A level.
The two local schools have played in a four-team district the last two years, but that will now swell to five teams with the realignment. Frostproof, Fort Meade and Lakeland Christian remain in what is now Class 3A, District 4, and will be joined by Tampa Catholic and Bishop McLaughlin in Spring Hill. Out is former district foe Cardinal Mooney.
Last fall, it appeared that Frostproof and Fort Meade might hook up with Crescent City, Taylor and Wildwood in a five-team Class 1A setup before it was scrapped in the final plan.
Frostproof will have one unusual schedule quirk — its bye date comes on the final regular season Friday of the season, Nov. 8. Fort Meade’s open Friday date is Oct. 11.
The Bulldogs will be at home against Bartow for their pre-season Kickoff Classic on Aug. 23, and open their regular season at home against Avon Park, Aug. 30. They are home Sept. 6 against Tenoroc, before hitting the road for three straight away games, Sept. 13 at Mulberry, Sept. 20 in the district opener at Bishop McLaughlin and Sept. 27 at Hardee.
Frostproof will then return home for just one game, Oct. 4 against Tampa Catholic, before playing at DeSoto on Oct. 11 and at Lakeland Christian Oct. 18. They finish with two home games, the Oct. 25 date against Fort Meade and on Nov. 1 against Berkeley Prep.
Fort Meade’s first taste of fall action comes on the road Aug. 23 in a Classic match up against Lake Region. The regular season kicks off at home Aug. 30 against Mulberry with a road game Sept. 6 at Hardee. Avon Park will visit Frank S. Battle Field on Sept. 13, and on Sept. 20, the Miners are at Tampa Catholic to open their district slate.
A non-league game at home against Bartow is slated Sept. 27, with a district home game Oct. 4 against Berkeley Prep next. After a bye, the Miners hit the road to Bishop McLaughlin on Oct. 18 and at Frostproof Oct. 25. Lakeland Christian will be at Fort Meade Nov. 1 to close the district schedule, with the regular season finals Nov. 8 at Tenoroc.
The schedule release comes with the backdrop of potential looming legislation that could significantly reduce FHSAA’s powers.
As the Florida High School Athletic Association began studying one bill that could change its policies and politics, a state legislator filed another one that would go even further.
That bill would boot the FHSAA’s current board of directors, slash its finances and restrict its investigative powers. It marks the third time the state legislature has targeted Florida’s governing body for high school sports in 14 months.
“What other (nonprofit) does the legislature go in and regulate how the board operates, how the board works, who they select as the CEO and how much they pay them?” FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing asked in a phone interview this week.
Two proposed bills would do that to the FHSAA, the 92-year-old nonprofit organization that governs about 800 of the state’s public or private high schools.
HB 1279, filed recently by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis, would have the biggest impact. Two provisions among its 677 lines would limit the FHSAA’s investigations to 90 days and keep its investigators from searching homes to check whether a family lives where it says it does.
Those changes would have restricted a six-month investigation into Armwood’s football program that ruled five players ineligible for falsifying residency information and resulted in the team being stripped of its 2011 state title.
Dearing said the FHSAA would abide by any changes and that schools or districts would have to assume more responsibility for checking residences if the association’s investigators could not.
“It’s difficult to ascertain the valid residence of a kid when it’s called in question,” Dearing said. “But that statute prevents our investigators from doing it.”
Metz’s bill also looks to change the FHSAA’s structure and finances. Instead of being chosen by the FHSAA’s board of directors, the association’s executive director would be appointed by the state’s commissioner of education. The current board members would end their terms on Sept. 30 and not be allowed back.
HB 1279 proposes to chop the association’s income from dues, fees and games in half. The biggest hit would come from the FHSAA’s loss in contest revenue. It earns more than $2.5 million of its $5.2 million budget by collecting a portion of gate receipts from events like playoff games and football classics, according to its 2012-13 budget.
The association has already halved its dues the past two years. Schools pay the FHSAA between $330 and $1,100 annually to be a member. Those dues total only $214,000, or about 4 percent of its budget.
Chief financial officer Linda Robertson said the organization would have to rethink its workshops for coaches or officials if the plan passes because those clinics are funded completely by fees that would shrink. But because the FHSAA has saved for an emergency, it wouldn’t have to make drastic changes for at least five years.
“It would not close the doors of the association,” Robertson said.
Neither would SB 1164, which was introduced into the education committee recently as well.
That bill, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is an extension of the HB 1403 transfer policy the Lakeland Republican wrote last year.
Dearing said that bill would make two major changes. If a team uses an ineligible player, the FHSAA couldn’t issue forfeits because the punishment would affect innocent players on the team who followed the rules.
“What about all those seven or eight or nine schools who were negatively impacted by having this ineligible player play?” Dearing said.
The other change centers on the follow-the-coach rule, which makes players ineligible if they transfer to a school where their club coach also coaches. SB 1164 would prevent the FHSAA from suspending the player, so, Dearing said, it would have to punish the coach. Doing that could cause legal problems because the coach is employed by a school, not the FHSAA.
Both proposals would further prohibit the FHSAA from ruling athletes ineligible by giving all of that responsibility to schools or districts. If the FHSAA disagreed with a ruling, it would have to make a case before a judge at the Division of Administrative Hearings.
Dearing said that’s not too different from the FHSAA’s current policy, where it investigates and delivers its findings to appeals boards who render final decisions.
“That changes it,” Dearing said, “but our responsibility to gather the evidence or produce the facts is the same.”
The bills would change the makeup of the board of directors, which hires the executive director, sets the FHSAA’s policies and oversees its budget.
Of the current 16 members, 12 are elected while the other four are appointed by the governor or commissioner of education. The new plan would call for 13 of the 25 board members to be appointed by legislators, the governor or the commissioner of education.
“They’re elected by their peers,” Dearing said of the current system. “That’s representative government.”
(Information for this story was also obtained through wire service reports.)