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Changes we'd like to see in high school sports: Coach pay, playoff seeding

Commentary from the News4Jax sports team

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We’ve got three wishes in high school sports, so what would we change about it if we could? 

Justin Barney and Cole Pepper covered a few of those topics on Sunday night. 

  • Split public and private high schools in the state playoffs
  • Pay all high school coaches better
  • Seed the state playoff brackets, like March Madness

The public-private debate has gone on for decades and it won’t cease. When I’d comb through archives in the library at my previous job, I’d find stories from the 1980s with front-page headlines addressing this same topic. The public school argument is that private schools have never and will never play by the same set of rules that public schools do and it creates unfair advantages. 

Legislation signed into law in 2016 and fully implemented the following year knocked down boundary issues that kept students assigned to schools within their residential district — they can attend any school now provided it has room — so one part of the public school argument was weakened a bit.

But, it’s still a topic that many coaches would like to see addressed. In fact, Pennsylvania introduced legislation last week to split public and private high school sports up. I don't think it's a point that's going away, especially if the right school administrators take the baton and run this up enough to the power brokers in Tallahassee. 

Georgia already had something similar to completely separate playoffs. While a few private schools compete in Class 2A and above, most of that state’s private schools if they opt for the Georgia High School Association, or GHSA, play in the Class 1A private category. Or they can play in the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA).  

GHSA's private and public schools in 1A have competed together during regular season region play and then been separated for the postseason. But the GHSA voted last April to split public and private 1A schools up in the regular season, too, beginning in 2020-21.   

Could a public-private split work for Florida? I think it could. Would it lead to a better product? Probably not.

I asked high school players a similar question to this in a poll several years ago and the answers were surprising. They were largely in favor of keeping the playoff system as it was, saying the best teams should play the best teams. 

• Pay the public school coaches for what they put in to their positions. 

A total of 24 counties in the state pay head football coaches less than $4,000 coaching supplements. Only 13 counties in the state pay coaches for spring football work and just 16 pay coaches any additional supplement for reaching the state playoffs. That's embarrassing, Florida. 

I use football as an example because it’s the most prominent sport in the state, and, it's essentially a year-round job, but you can use almost any major team sport as an example. Coaches are paid too little for what they’re responsible for. Period. And amplify that for assistants, many of whom are far more underpaid than head coaches for the amount of work that they do. 

• The third change is the most creative and would never happen, but who doesn’t love the unpredictability of March Madness? I would like nothing more than to see a full bracket, seeded 1 to 32 (or 1 to 16 in the smaller classes) in the major team sports. 

Currently, we get the same cycle of matchups annually in most of the major team sports. You often get rematches of district championship games in the second round of the playoffs and a familiar geographical opponent in the third round.

Travel would be a nightmare under this format, but a true bracket where teams are seeded would be fantastic. You could seed the district champs 1 through 16 and then wildcard teams 17 through 32. Do the best teams play in South Florida? Could a football team like Raines handle a stronger team from Miami in the opening round? 

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.