Rural class leveling playing field

Published 9:56 am Monday, August 8, 2011

The new rural league will prevent Northview from playing teams such as Jacksonville Trinity in the playoffs.|File Photo

When the Northview Chiefs take the field next month, it will be a whole new ballgame as the new rural league begins with the 2011-12 school year.

The Chiefs will be one of 32 schools in the new classification that aims to level the playing field for schools that are unable to draw larger enrollments as compared to schools in larger cities such as Jacksonville and Orlando.

The change in classification is a welcome one for the Chiefs and head coach Sid Wheatley.

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No matter how the classification would be the Chiefs would compete, but there is a better chance to advance in the postseason, Wheatley said.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “I think that our kids are fine with it, and we will be fine. I felt pretty good about our team before the change. We try and compete with everybody and we’ll line up with anybody on a Friday night. I do feel that for other schools with smaller numbers, it gives them the opportunity to advance in the playoffs. It’s tough for a school that size to compete with a team that draws from a metropolitan population of one to two million people.”

To level the playing field, the Florida High School Athletic Association has seperated schools that are in a rural area and have less than 600 students from the larger schools.

The new classification aims to keep small schools from having to constantly play teams from larger cities, Wheatley said.

“It’s basically taking schools that draw from a small population in a rural area and seperating them from the larger schools in big metro areas,” he said. “For example, it pulls schools like us here at Northview and Jay High School away from schools in the Jacksonville or the Tallahassee where they can pull from a couple of million people in some cases. It creates a new class for the rural schools to play in.”

With fewer teams playing in the rural classification, the Chiefs will not have to compete in as many district games as they normally do.

A reduced number of district teams has made it a difficult task to put together a schedule, Wheatley said.

“It greatly affects our district from last year,” he said. “Last season, we had eight teams in our district, but this year we only have three. The teams for the most part remain the same in this area, but once playoffs begin and you begin to move east then there are some different teams. With our district, it has been difficult to schedule since there are not as many teams in it.”

Playoffs will have a similar look as they did before the new classification was put into place.

The difference in the postseason will be the amount of travel teams face, Wheatley said.

“I think it will cut down on some travel,” he said. “From the way I see it, the rounds of the playoffs and how many games you need to win will remain about the same. I haven’t looked that far ahead yet because I’m focused on winning our district and our first nine football games first. The main thing is that it cuts down on the amount of travel, so I don’t think we’d have to go anywhere like Jacksonville, but we’ll see.”