New divisions mean big changes coming to high school football in Florida

Metro and Suburban will split the state, become a reality this season

Bolles RB Kade Frew scores a 12-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter against St Augustine. (Ralph D. Priddy, News4Jax)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Big change is on the way this year for high school football in Florida.

The Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors voted to go ahead with the biggest changes to the sport — perhaps ever — approving a concept that will split the state into two divisions, Metro and Suburban. The board voted to approve the measure, 9-7 on Monday morning, a seismic shift that will go into effect beginning this year.

It’s a radical change that will take the state’s largest eight counties — Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Seminole — and put them in a newly created Metro division. Schools in those districts have cleaned up in state championships and both coaches and athletic director committees in the state wanted to level the playing field.

The state’s remaining 59 counties will be split in the Suburban category. Both Metro and Suburban will have four classifications in each. Class 1A would remain rural, giving the state nine state champions now as opposed to the eight last year.

The board was situated on two fault lines, the chance to make a real change and the worry about doing too much too soon.

Backers of the proposal largely felt that the time to make a change was now, even with so many details of the plan still unknown.

Opponents said such a sweeping change needed proper time to study and vet. In the end, the vote was exceptionally tight. A tie would have almost certainly meant the measure wouldn’t have passed.

The FHSAA said that it could have a new policy drawn up to accompany the Metro/Suburban concept within a couple weeks. That would allow schools to begin scheduling.

Executive director George Tomyn wasn’t in favor of the plan from the outset and voiced his concerns with the timeline of such a radical change. Tomyn suggested a year of more detailed study on such a change, including the hire of an outside firm to look at the finer details. His preference was starting any change in 2024. Tomyn said after the vote that

“My biggest reservation going forward is that we don’t have all those questions answered. And I’m a boring kind of guy. An establishment person. I like to have as many questions answered ahead of time as I possibly can. We’ve got a lot of questions now. The board, evidently it appears in my interpretation, I haven’t had a chance to talk to staff yet, but they’ve given us the flexibility to go ahead and do some things. And we’re going to do that and and do that with a positive attitude and get after it.”

St. Johns County superintendent Tim Forson, who voted in favor of the change, said he spoke to the coaches in his area and came away moved by the need for change.

“Let’s be bold and move forward,” Forson said.

The FHSAA board was skeptical about calling the Metro/Suburban a policy because of the outstanding questions around it.

Discussion on the change began more than a year ago within the football coaches advisory committee unanimously approving it in both 2021 and this year. The athletic directors advisory committee voted against it 8-7 last year and voted for it by the same margin this year. The operations committee voted in favor of the plan, 3-2, on Sunday night.

Also on Monday, the FHSAA also said it wants to get in front of the discussion on the name, image and likeness issue. That bill became law last July which allowed college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. That issue has already made its way down to the high school level in some states. The FHSAA said it is soliciting input on the topic and would report its findings at the next meeting in April.

Florida is one of 24 states that currently prohibits NIL in high school, joining Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Suburban division

How the new classification structure in high school football will look. Classes are shown with enrollment numbers. Schools from 59 counties make up this division.

4A: 68 schools (1,893 enrollment)

3A: 68 schools (1,443-1,892)

2A: 68 schools (601-1,442)

1A: 30 schools (below 600)

Metro division

High schools in Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Seminole will make up the new Metro division. A look at how many schools will make up each classification, with enrollment for those schools listed.

4A: 64 schools (2,356 enrollment)

3A: 64 schools (1,675-2,355)

2A: 64 schools (601-1,674)

1A: 36 schools (below 600)

Rural

The rural division has existed as Class 1A for years. It will continue and have these numbers of schools and enrollment numbers.

1A: 33 schools (below 600)


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.