To quote the great Bob Dylan, when it comes to the Florida High School football playoffs — The Times They Are A-Changin. Now whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is certainly depends on who you ask, but the change is still coming.

On a split 9-7 vote on Monday afternoon in Gainesville, the FHSAA Board of Directors approved changing the classification and playoff structure for the sport of football.

The current format has schools divided into eight different classes based solely on school enrollment. Championships are contested in eight classes, 1A-8A in the sport.

Authored by Dunnellon Football Coach Price Harris, the new plan calls for the organization to establish two new divisions, called the Metro and the Suburban. The Metro will be made up of the eight most populous counties in Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Orange, Duval, Pinellas and Seminole; while the Suburban Division will consist of the other 59 counties, which includes Osceola.

Under the new format, schools would still be separated into one of four classifications (1A-4A) based on population and each would crown a champion at the conclusion of the playoffs.

The reason for the change is that many athletic directors and football coaches in what will now be called the Suburban Division, felt that open enrollment and unlimited transfer rules gave too much of an advantage to schools located in large metropolitan areas.

“I understand why they are doing it,” Osceola Coach Eric Pinellas said. “In bigger cities, you might have four or five high schools located within a bike ride away. So when it comes to open enrollment, it’s no big deal for a kid to transfer to one of those schools if he wants to. I think Miami Central took something like 19 transfers last year and beat Merritt Island by 35 points in the 5A title game. It was a running clock after halftime and that’s never a good look.”

As evidence in favor of the change, Harris pointed out that 88% of the state football championships in the last 11 years (68 of 77) have been won by schools that would be now classified as Metro. He believes his plan will allow for more equitable competition and give more schools an opportunity to compete for championships.

But to say the plan does not have its detractors would be a major understatement.

While almost 90 percent of polled Suburban athletic directors and coaches approved of the switch (95 of106); almost 74 percent of the Metro-sized school athletic directors and coaches said they did not approve of the new system (105 of 143).

In addition, many more were skeptical of the timing. FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn recommended against passing the rule; while many others questioned the timing of it. “In principle, I’m not against the proposal, I’m just not in favor of the timing of it,” Osceola County Athletic Director Ryan Adams said. “The biggest problem is that football decisions drive practically everything in the fall. They knew for months they were going to consider this plan and if it passed they should have been able to announce the classifications and districts at the same time.”

Adams pointed out that the FHSAA is not planning on announcing new districts for at least three to four weeks. “Usually by January the coaches know their schedule,” Adams said. “Right now they can’t do anything until they know who is in their district and which weeks those district games are being played. Right now we don’t even know if cross-division games between Metro and Suburban schools will even be allowed.”

A preliminary plan worksheet supplied by Price showed a district that would include Osceola, Celebration, Poinciana, Tohpekaliga, and Haines City. Although that plan was not official, Poinciana Head Coach Randy Beeken simply says that will not happen. “We are not going to get stuck in a district where we have no chance of being competitive. Before school choice and open enrollment, we would have years where I felt we could compete. We went independent last year because we didn’t want to be in a district where every team in our district was capable of beating us by 35 or 50 points. If they really wanted to fix the problem they just need to go back to the days where you had to attend the school you were zoned for.”

Harmony coach Don Simon sees two major drawbacks to the plan. First, he sincerely believes it will solve nothing when it comes to competitive balance and he also criticizes the timing of the move. “The best ‘Suburban’ schools will still be powerhouses and the teams that struggle to be competitive in their division are not going to be lifted by this change. But more than anything, the timing is ridiculous. Simply by doing the math, some schools will be in four-team districts and some in five-team districts and until you know how many district games you have, you can’t do any schedule. In a compressed amount of time, coaches and athletic directors are going to struggle to try to get a schedule done.”

Adams agreed with Simon. “While in principle I believe some type of format tweaking is probably necessary but I can’t believe they announced it today and said we will let you know about districts in three or four weeks. They knew about this proposal for months, why they weren’t ready to announce districts on the same day seems a bit irresponsible.”

The real question for county schools is who stands the most to benefit from the new alignment. Although Pinellas points out the quality teams will be left in the Suburban Division, it should be noted Osceola no longer would have to face teams like Dr. Phillips, Apopka, Seminole, and West Orange in the post-season; nor would they see teams from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Dade, and Broward counties.

A Metro-sized school had knocked Osceola out of the last three playoffs and six times in the last nine years but Pinellas says that is immaterial. “We are going to play football at Osceola High and our goal is to compete for a state championship. Whether it is Metro or Suburban or under the old system, it doesn’t matter. We will play anyone, anywhere, anytime and the notion that a Suburban Championship is not a great achievement is ridiculous. There are lots of great teams that will be in that division.”