Editorial: Is Smarter Scheduling the Way to Keep Growing the Sport?

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The first week of the high school season in Florida highlighted a trend that was disappointing to me and that was a plethora of bad blowouts.  Usually, a blowout is simply the result of two teams that should not have played each other (that isn’t fully the case since sometimes you get a better match that was ruined by a string of injuries or maybe missing players because they are involved in another sport’s playoffs).

I’ve asked the lacrosse community to send in examples of where counties or other administrators are forcing teams to play each other (like Hillsborough or Orange County does) when clearly there’s no benefit to either side.  Please let me know at lee@floridalacrossenews.com.

Let’s look at Freedom (Orlando) as an example (not picking on you, just an easy analysis), playing in 2A District 7.  Here’s the current standings (March 18th):

School Name*W-L*Pct.*GF*GAW-LPct.GFGA
Lake Nona2-01.0003463-20.6005330
Dr. Phillips2-01.0003874-50.44410763
Celebration1-10.50017262-40.3334675
Olympia1-20.33327383-50.3757282
Tohopekaliga0-10.0007157-20.77810265
Freedom0-20.0004350-80.00032124

It’s pretty clear that from top to bottom that this is not a strong district.

If you take the current FHSAA statewide power rankings, you get:

Lake Nona at #83

Dr. Phillips at #113

Celebration at #145

Olympia at #143

Tohopekaliga at #110

Freedom at #189

One of these schools will HOST a first-round FHSAA 2A bracket game, likely versus a team ranked well above them (#28 Timber Creek is currently #5).  I’m not pointing out this to guide the FHSAA to change who gets automatic bids, or to propose a team show a level in the power ranking to qualify, even if they win a District championship.

This is about regular season scheduling and how to keep schools in the bottom 10-15% of the rankings from dropping the sport completely.  One of the early proposals that the FHSAA originally considered was a ‘banding’ of the top programs in one class, a bunching of schools in the middle, and then a lower level for those schools who are just playing, but not putting a lot of resources into the effort.

Looking back that was not a terrible idea if a) there was a mechanism for moving up and down and b) if the state wasn’t so big geographically, but the travel distances necessary for the Top 32 would have been quite a challenge.  So why not take a thought from the attempt and adapt it to the regular season? Basing it on what a few schools who are top programs, but in different classes, have done with their rivalries . . . playing home and home in the regular season to maximize the enjoyment of the games being played.

Here is where the administrators who run things in certain areas need to adjust their thinking.  On April 7th, Freedom, at #189, is scheduled to play 2A finalist Winter Park.

Why?

If Winter Park went all out, they would win the game 40-0 and anyone who doesn’t believe that is kidding themselves.  The only benefit to this game for Winter Park is that kids who haven’t gotten onto the scoresheet will likely do so.  As for Freedom, this will be a game they will not enjoy.  Late in the season of a possibly winless year and they have to endure this.

All because Orange County has a rigid view of what a lacrosse schedule should look like, instead of relying on the knowledge of a school’s staff to understand where they truly stand in the area’s landscape.  If I’m Freedom, it would be far better to play Celebration a second time than Winter Park.  On top of that, wouldn’t Winter Park be better served preparing for the FHSAA brackets playing St. Thomas Aquinas that game? 

Of course they would.

If you are a program like Freedom, you are either going to eventually care enough to develop a feeder program or similar, or you are going to understand you are giving kids who want to play a chance to play, but that’s as far as it is going to go.  And being forced to play Winter Park is almost cruel.

Counties, please to a look at how you think about these things.  Even with the continued growth of the sport in the state, there have been schools that have given up the sport.

There are 203 teams listed on the FHSAA website rankings this year and 205 on MaxPreps.  Putting aside the discrepancy, it is important to note that in 2020-21, there were 213 on MaxPreps.  What happened to the other eight teams/schools?  In 2018-19, there were 201.  This is not growth, it is stagnation.

For comparison, there are 213 Girls teams/schools in the 21-22 MaxPreps rankings for the state versus 209 last year.

That seems to be expected to me; the youth side of the equation is growing in my perception at a faster rate for the Girls.

But what’s the point of not looking at obstacles in place that are causing schools to drop their programs?  If there is a demand for a team it will likely come from the kids in that district wanting to play high school lacrosse.  But how long does that last if you get kicked in the teeth too often because you aren’t playing a similar level of competition until it warrants moving up?

Smart coaches understand this, even if administrators don’t.  This isn’t bowling or gymnastics or similar sports where it’s only a matter of winning or losing.  This is a physical sport and injury risk is real when the teams are unevenly matched.  Be smarter about scheduling and just maybe we’ll start to see more interest in the sport up AND down the ladder.

This is not working when it comes to increasing the number of schools fielding teams; if anything it is contributing to the dropping of programs.

That is NOT the spirit of where we should be going.