Picture a high school landscape modeled after the makeup of college football.
This fall, 14 South Florida programs from Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties will compete in the Southeastern Football Conference (SFC) rather than in districts or as independents.
It started with a conversation, seventh-year Miami Country Day coach Chuck Sennett said. A lot of schools werent happy with the districts they were in. The way that the state realigned was tougher when it came to numbers. With football a physical sport, you worry about safety of the kids. The more we had the discussion the more we just felt that the conference and bringing all these schools together was just the right thing to do for our kids and for our coaches.
Initial talks between five schools began last November following the football season. Like any conference, there are bylaws. It abides by all FHSAA regulations, though its teams cannot compete for a state championship because they are still technically independents.
The SFC consists of two divisions northern and southern with seven teams in each. Each school will play eight regular-season games, which includes matchups against the seven divisional opponents and one from the other division.
During weeks nine and 10, the conference will roll out its playoff format. The top four teams from each division will face off in seeded games. While this takes place, the other six teams will participate in a consolation bracket, ensuring a 10-game season.
Following the first round of playoff games will be the Final Four. After a bye week, a bowl game will serve as the conference championship on Nov. 17 at FAU Stadium.
They made the model very similar to how college football is where every week matters, first-year Westminster Academy coach Jake Sorg said. Weve got to get up and prepare like its the national championship every weekend. For us, its like the state championship every weekend and its great for our kids and definitely helped summer workouts and sense of what we want to accomplish.
According to Sennett and one of his players, junior tight end Sam Cohen, the biggest draw of the new conference will be the competition.
Before, some of the smaller programs because of realignment took the field against schools with student populations more than twice their size. Safety sometimes became a concern.
The way I look at it, the conferences open for anyone to take, Cohen said. Theres no set winner.
Four teams in the southern division Ransom Everglades, Miami Country Day, Archbishop Curley and Marathon played last year in District 8-3A with Archbishop Carroll, Westminster Christian, University School and Chaminade-Madonna.
We went from the largest district in the state to one of the smaller ones, fifth-year Chaminade-Madonna coach Tim Tyrrell said. It was tough on the other teams in the district that stayed in it because we had a to fill a whole bunch of different games. It happened in the middle of the two-year district plan I dont hold anything against the coaches on the other teams because theyre doing the best thing for their players and the safety of their players.
Westminster Academy had been playing as an independent for the past two years and thus couldnt qualify for the state tournament. Now, the Lions have a shot at reaching the conference title game.
This is like Christmas morning for our kids because it gives us a chance to play for something, Sorg said. Typically about week five our kids start getting the itch to go play their second sport because when its all said and done, we werent really playing for anything whereas now every week means something.
Whether the conference expands to other sports as well as more schools depends on how it fares in its inaugural season.
As part of its bylaws, members from each program vote on whether a new school can join or whether to drop an existing school based on rule breaking. It takes 75 percent of the vote for a decision to pass.
I think there are a lot of people looking at this saying, Hey, this is pretty neat, and they want to see if we fail or succeed before theyre ready to commit, Sennett said. Its a year-to-year thing, but we couldnt ask for a better inaugural year with the schools involved, with the coaches and the administrators. We really couldnt have handpicked a better group to start with.