Negative Response

Coaches express anger with schedule reduction in Florida

High school baseball is one of several sports in Florida to fall victim to the slumping economy.

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted 9-6 to shorten high school seasons, including cutting the baseball season from 25 regular season games to 20. The change will go into effect for the 2009-2010 school year and will last two years before alternatives are visited.

As expected, high school coaches around the state are very disappointed in the decision.

"I don't like it at all, especially in Florida," said Todd Fitz-Gerald, head coach of American Heritage High in Plantation. "I think it's a travesty. We play in the hottest bed for baseball in the United States of America and they're gonna cut us from 25 to 20. It's bad enough it was 25."

Coaches are clearly concerned with how this benefits the athletes. Most high school coaches carry seven or eight pitchers. But with the reduced schedule they will only get a couple of games per week, reducing the need for a larger pitching staff.

"It's really tragic," Clyde Metcalf said. "We carried eight pitchers. We're not going to need that. We're taking opportunity away from the kids. It's diminishing an opportunity to play, be seen by scouts and recruiters and develop as players."

Metcalf is the head coach at Sarasota High and also serves as the school's athletic director so he's seen multiple angles on the decision.

"It's a by-product of the economy," he said. "It's a way to save sports. As a coach I hate it. As an athletic administrator, I have a better understanding."

But Metcalf added a point that he doesn't understand. Football wasn't touched. There's no question the sport brings in the most revenue. That's seen on the college level as well. But the junior varsity and freshman teams were left alone along with varsity.

"I disagreed that freshman and JV wasn't cut down," Metcalf added. "I hate seeing those portrayed as being more important than other varsity sports."
Baseball does create revenue for some schools that host national tournaments. Metcalf's squad hosts the Sarasota Classic each year, which attracts very good competition. The tournament is still on for next year, but some tentative changes are being considered.

Not all are so lucky. Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines hosts their own tournament that is arguably one of the biggest in the state. Head coach Ray Evans has had to cancel next year's event so his team can get the rest of their schedule in. That will likely lose money for their program.

"Our tournament generates revenue," Evans said. "We made 3-to-4,000 dollars at the gate in one week and about 2,000 dollars in concessions. That's all gone."
With the heightened presence of club leagues in the summer and fall, this move probably won't affect the scouting industry as much. But that adds fuel to a fire that has been threatening high school coaches for some time.

"Summer baseball is gonna kill us," Fitz-Gerald added. "Now they're gonna use high school baseball as a tune-up to get ready for the summer. So is high school important anymore? For me being a high school coach, yes. But what are you going to do?"