Benjamin, Pope John Paul II, St. Andrew's leave districts to create independent football conference
Monday, January 09, 2012
by Matt Porter
In what is believed to be an unprecedented move in South Florida, a coalition of 14 small, mostly private schools in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties have withdrawn from their FHSAA-mandated football districts to create an independent conference for 2012.
The Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, Pope John Paul II and St. Andrew's in Boca Raton and John Carroll in Fort Pierce are the area schools that will join the new league, tentatively called the South Florida Football Conference. It will begin play in September and end its season with North and South Division winners playing for an independent conference championship. The move is only for football.
Football coaches and administrators from the area schools, who were a combined 11-28 last season, said the split allows them to compete with schools of similar size that put an extra emphasis on academics over athletics. There are currently no plans to include more schools, but that may be an option in the coming years.
"When we first talked about it, it was like a breath of fresh air," Pope John Paul II Athletic Director and Football Coach Matt Dillon said. "It just made the most sense for our schools."
By declaring their independence in football, the schools remain bylaw-abiding members of the FHSAA, but are not eligible to participate in the state football playoffs. Instead, they will play a 10-game schedule with a built-in playoff system that involves all of the conference's 14 teams. The best players will earn all-conference recognition.
The move means Benjamin and Pope John will break from District 7-3A, leaving American Heritage, Cardinal Newman, King's Academy, Pahokee and Fort Lauderdale-Calvary Christian. John Carroll will exit District 4-3A. St. Andrew's will remain independent.
It also means the schools won't struggle against seemingly superior teams. For years there have been allegations by county coaches of schools, both public and private, bending FHSAA rules to attract players. Private schools are seen as freer to do so since they lack attendance boundaries and can offer financial aid packages.
"We're not trying to throw anybody under the bus," Dillon said. "They do things their way, we do things our way. Our way is, we're going to follow the letter of the law. We're excited and happy to be members of the FHSAA, and we're going to follow those rules. We're excited to be forming this league."
In the coming weeks, the conference will name a commissioner and create bylaws. Several sources involved in the process said those bylaws will include regulation of transfer student-athletes into member schools. They also will detail the process for entry into and dismissal from the conference.
A handful of the involved schools met at the time of last year's biannual FHSAA district realignment to discuss going independent, but the task proved too daunting at the time. They declared their independence in December.
"If you're coming to Benjamin for just football - or even athletics - you're coming to the wrong place," Benjamin Athletic Director Ryan Smith said. "We're preparing kids for the next 60 to 80 years of their lives. Not just in the short term, winning football games. We feel this league helps us accomplish that goal."
St. Andrew's, which previously could not take part in any playoffs because it was an independent, looks forward to vying for a championship.
"The last three games of the season, my coaches are worn out trying to motivate the kids," St. Andrew's football coach George McCartin sad. "The kids are playing for pride, that's all they're playing for. This is a really neat concept."
The two proposed divisions will consist of seven teams, many of whom already play one another. The North will be made up of Benjamin, Coral Springs Charter, John Carroll, Pine Crest, Pope John Paul II, St. Andrew's and Westminster Academy. The South Division is comprised of Coral Shores, Florida Christian, Marathon, Miami Country Day, Miami Curley, Miami La Salle and Ransom Everglades.
"We anticipate this possibly could grow," Smith said. "We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think it would be a good thing. You've got teams with tremendous history. You've got teams that have been around for 50-plus years that have decided to do this. We've put a lot of thought into this, and we're gong to make sure this is a great experience for the schools and the student-athletes."
Coaches acknowledged that by creating their own conference, they could be seen as hiding from top-flight competition. They preferred to be realistic.
"Winning and losing is important to us," Benjamin football coach Ron Ream said. "We're all competitors. But you want to know that when you roll up your sleeves and work hard, you've got a chance. Some of us now roll up our sleeves and know we're not going to have a chance.
"It was so refreshing to sit there and listen to the other schools saying the same thing. We're all trying to do the same thing. Boy, was it refreshing."
SOUTH FLORIDA FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
NORTH DIVISION: Benjamin, Coral Springs Charter, John Carroll, Pine Crest (Fort Lauderdale), Pope John Paul II, St. Andrew's, Westminster Academy (Fort Lauderdale).
SOUTH DIVISION: Archbishiop Curley (Miami), Coral Shores (Tavernier), Florida Christian (Miami), LaSalle (Miami), Marathon, Miami Country Day, Ransom Everglades (Miami).
WHO THEY'LL PLAY: Six games against division opponents, one game against opposite division, one open game. Each team will finish its schedule by Week 8. THE PLAYOFFS: Weeks 9 and 10 are reserved for a playoff tournament involving all teams. Week 11 is a bye week. In Week 12, the North and South winners will play for the conference championship.