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Port Charlotte’s Alicia Kowalski sends a shot over the net in a final four loss to Ponte Verda in November.

Two area high school volleyball teams, Port Charlotte and Venice, reached the final four during the 2019 season.

Their reward? Long road trips up to Tallahassee and Jacksonville to play in front of a rowdy opposing crowd.

It begs the question: At that round of the postseason, should games be played at one neutral site? Or is the prospect of hosting a semifinal game more motivation to play a tougher schedule and rise up the rankings?

Potential added cost and bigger crowd size are also factors in making that decision.

So which would be better for the big game?

Sun sports writers Jacob Hoag and Vinnie Portell weigh in on either side of the discussion.

Pro: Home field advantage shouldn't change a season 

The Venice High baseball team needed an extra-innings rally to come back and win the state semifinals last season. Would that have been possible on the road? 

Sure, the Indians could have pulled out a similar comeback effort, but it wouldn't have been as easy. However, baseball plays the two rounds of the state tournament in a neutral site -- Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, in this case -- and Venice applied enough pressure to rattle the opposing pitcher, who sailed a throw to home that helped the Indians win the game. 

And it's not just baseball that plays its final two rounds in one place. Softball, basketball, tennis and some other small sports each host both rounds of the state tournament. 

However, it's a different story for some sports -- like volleyball and soccer. 

For Venice and Port Charlotte's volleyball teams, the odds were stacked against them before they even stepped on the court. Picture this: You've been training much of your teenage life in the sport you play. You dedicate your free time after school, your weekends and summers to playing your sport. And when you get to high school, that work pays off with a regional title and a trip to the final four.

But now?

Wake up early after a school day, get on a bus and drive 4-5 hours, get off the bus and play the biggest match of your life. 

Sounds tough? It was for the Indians and Pirates, who were both swept.

Though it might not have mattered where the matches were played for these two teams, their long commutes, early wake-up calls and playing in their opponents' home courts certainly didn't make for an even match. 

The FHSAA soccer advisory voted 9-0 against bringing back a neutral site for its state tournament in 2017, reasoning that "the finals only format was implemented this year due to field condition concerns at the selected venue. The selection committee felt the field would not hold up if 30 tournament games were played in a span of two weeks."

While this is understandable, the field at Hammond Stadium holds up just fine with baseball players running on it all day long for a full week of games. 

It makes sense that football wouldn't have a neutral site for its final four. The two-week break between the state semifinals and state championship, along with the wear and tear of the field and the sheer size of most football teams makes it a logistical problem to host two rounds of game.

And for the other sports? It's unlikely that money will be made off ticket sales from high school volleyball or soccer, but if that makes the road to a championship more even, it might be worth the cost. 

Con: Single site might prove too costly

Playing the final two rounds of the playoffs at a neutral site is enticing. It would create a level-playing field and provide a path to much bigger crowds for the games, but at what cost?

Budgets are tight right now due to the virus and due to added costs like pay increases for the refs. Adding venue rental, staff and insurance on top of that would not be a smart move for the FHSAA and its members schools at this point.

Renting facilities like Silver Springs Arena in Kissimmee, home of the state wrestling meet, or Suncoast Credit Union Area which houses the City of Palms, isn't cheap and that expense would most likely fall in part on the member schools.

Then you add the dozens of staff needed to run the multi-day event, and the cost goes even higher.

Could the profits made from such an event offset the cost? Maybe, but certainly not all of it.

Aside from the cost, there's the home field advantage factor. It's pretty easy, if you don't like playing on the road in the playoffs, play better and play harder opponents.

Stronger strength of schedule helps boost a team's ranking, which determines who hosts the Final Four.

Once there, teams get to have their home crowd backing them while the visitors bring along a small caravan of parents and administrators. It definitely is an added bonus and provides more motivation to do the things it takes to host.

When Venice and Port Charlotte made their trips north, they were outnumbered two to one when the took to the stands. If Venice were to host such a game, that gym would be jam-packed with raucous students and fans, much like their regional final against Fort Myers.

So let's keep it spread out, save some money and keep the challenge of earning a home game.

Email Jacob Hoag at jacob.hoag@yoursun.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJacobHoag.

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