Ask The FHSAA: How Will The New Regional Format & At Large Bids Improve Our Sport?

The discussion boards have been buzzing lately about the news of double regionals, at large qualifiers, and other issues as they relate to improving the state series for track and field. For this edition of Ask The FHSAA, we ask  Ed Thompson, FHSAA Director of Athletics, Track & Field Administrator, what are the new changes and how will the benefit our sport?

How did the idea for these double regionals come to fruition?

Our original thought process started with the premise that we needed to ensure the most "sameness" across all regions in order to address concerns of the legitimacy of the marks for at-large bids. Over the years, we have not had consistency (though we tried) in the officiating coverage, time schedule, event order, or other considerations across all regions. The expansion of our officials ranks and increasing numbers of quality facilities allows us the take advantage of this opportunity to consolidate our officials and timing coverage and really put on legitimate quality event for the student-athletes. The fewer the regions, the more consistency can be expected for everyone's benefit.

An at large qualifier is something that was put in place to allow for kids in some of the more difficult regionals a fair chance to advance to regionals. Talk about that process.

I don't believe the path to the state meet has gotten easier. What the at-large bids (up to 8 max. in each event) add is quality to the state meet. We know the criticism of the auto-qualifier system. Some of the best athletes were left out. The folks wanted that to change. The state meet will actually be a tougher event to win for all schools and really force the coaches to up their game. 

To put simply, we are taking the next 8 best marks in each event after the auto-qualifiers are in. If there are ties for the last spot, we'll break them using NFHS procedures. If there are any ties that result in more than 8 at-large qualifiers, we will take less than 8. That would apply across all events. Sprinters will advance via the marks from finals at regionals only. The detailed policy is on our track & field page of the FHSAA website. 

A lot of people have brought up the travel issue. 2-3 days instead of one for hotels, bus rentals, etc. What is being put in place for schools to be able to afford this new format and not have a financial burden?

Frankly, we've been running doubles across this state for many years. Nothing really changes. We are, however, going to listen to feedback from our member schools on the travel issue and perhaps make some adjustments to accommodate some of the unique inequities that occur in different parts of the state.  I would not expect any major changes, though, for the vast majority of the state.

Another issue people have addressed are the venues themselves. What is the process for selecting a venue? How will the issues of parking, bathrooms, concessions, officials etc be solved now with double the athletes?

We have more than enough facilities in our great state to make this happen. Because we consolidated our regions, it should make the process very competitive. We are hoping the process plays out in such a way that our bidders are raising the bar in providing a great venue and experience for the participants. Each bid will be evaluated on the specs stipulated in the bid packet. Each region offers the opportunity to run in quality venues with quality meet management and staff. We are truly fortunate to have not only the best athletes in the country in our state, but we also have the best coaches and track & field professionals around.    

When will those venues be announced?

We are hoping to have the regional sites selected before the district planning meetings in December. We'd like our schools to really have a good sense of their upcoming season before they go to Christmas break.

I know this is part of a larger plan you have in mind to make the state series transitions more fluid correct?  How do these changes relate to the grand scheme of things?

I believe track & field in our state is really out in front in terms of the upcoming transition in high school sports in Florida. We at FHSAA are looking at making some real changes to address some of inequities that have long been simmering over the years. Data from the last 8-10 years has shown that schools from metropolitan areas have won 65-75% of all state championships in all sports. The data doesn't show an inequity between public and private schools. Instead it shows an inequity between the major cities and suburban communities. Small schools in these dense areas have a decisive advantage over the small schools in suburban areas because the pool of athletes they draw from. School population will probably not be the sole determinant of classification in the state in the future. We want to ensure a fair and equitable system for our students and what we've done so far in this sport is a step along that path.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Nope. I'm sure we will have a lot more to discuss as time passes.There are a few more things in the pike that we haven't announced yet.

We want your thoughts. Do you like the new regional format?