New computerized football schedules released by the Arizona Interscholastic Association will bring us Hamilton vs. Basha, Mountain View vs. Red Mountain, Tempe Prep vs. Seton ... and a process which brought us a whole lot of disagreements.
The schedules use geography as the overriding factor in determining each team’s opponents as a way to lower travel costs and reduce the number of state tournaments. That can force intra-city matchups such as Hamilton-Basha and Mountain View-Red Mountain, but also create new ones for schools with disparate enrollment numbers.
Seton has more than twice the projected enrollment of Tempe Prep (542 to 232), so the Knights could be livid at the new scheduling system. But they’re not. In fact, Tempe Prep was one of a few schools surveyed that was happy with how the new football scheduling process unfolded.
“The fact that occasionally teams may be compelled to compete against larger schools in the interest of fiscal concerns seems to me to be a reasonable compromise if it keeps schools from having to cease offering a particular sport altogether because travel ends up making the cost prohibitive,” Tempe Prep coach Tommy Brittain said.
The approving sentiment was shared by Arcadia’s Jim Ellison and Desert Mountain’s Tony Tabor, to name a few.
Many others? Not so much.
Coaches’ opposition to the new format centered on three concerns:
• The elimination of regions.
• Confusion surrounding geographic boundaries.
• A new standard that three teams from each of the three sections will automatically qualify for the postseason (the remaining seven spots will be determined by power points).
Coaches fear eliminating regions takes away a significant, tangible goal for most football teams in the state. The reality is only six schools will win state championships under the new format, so coaches’ complaints centered around the other 250 AIA-member schools.
“I think this is unfortunate for player recognition as well as for teams that realistically cannot have a goal of becoming a state champ,” Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke said. “Being able to hang a region banner may be the ultimate goal.”
AIA schedules released Tuesday including each school’s 10 opponents, but specific dates are still to be determined.
Given its location, Desert Mountain (Division I) will face a usual cast of opponents in Chaparral, Pinnacle and North Canyon, but will now also play Notre Dame, Dobson and Highland (one of two “freedom” games that schools schedule themselves without the aid of a computer). The Wolves also face Chad DeGrenier-led Mountain View for the first time since 2000.
“I don’t know how you solve everything with travel and cutting back,” Tabor said. “It comes down to economics and making it work where people don’t have to drive as far. If you live a long way away I could see it being frustrating. I don’t think anyone wants to play the toughest teams in America every Friday night. College football doesn’t do it either. I think it’s created some interesting games that weren’t there before.”
Hamilton will be meeting Basha for the first time in the regular season, while Red Mountain and Mountain View will be renewing their rivalry. The two Mesa rivals are not in the same region currently and don’t face one another, but because of geographic proximity, they will automatically be pitted against each other again beginning next season.
The Mountain Lions also face the Gilbert schools, Mesa, Skyline, Desert Ridge, Avondale Westview and Brophy (the latter two being “freedom” opponents).
Lions coach Ron Wisniewski knows it makes sense geographically, but only three of the eight “assigned” opponents by the computer are in Section III (the “freedom” game with Brophy added a fourth), where the Lions and other Mesa/Gilbert schools are competing against each other for one of those three guaranteed playoff spots.
“Our games have been chosen with proximity the number one factor, so we are playing the schools closest to us, yet most of the schools nearby us are not in our region,” he said. “So, like us, most teams are not playing many teams from their own (section) yet the top three teams in each section automatically qualify for the playoffs.
“That makes zero sense.”
The guarantee that the top three teams in each section earn automatic postseason berths was the other point of contention, especially in light of Tucson and Yuma schools not traveling because of budget cuts.
Tucson and Yuma schools (and, to a degree, the Metro schools in Division I, Section I) will face one other with very few exceptions (Chaparral travelling to Salpointe being one of them). Valley coaches aren’t happy that Tucson and Yuma schools won’t travel to the Valley and face more difficult competition. With the rest being decided on power points, the fear is three automatic playoff berths could take away a playoff spot from a 5-5 or 6-4 (maybe even 7-3) Valley school with a perceived stronger schedule.
Zupke preferred that only the top team in each section earn an automatic playoff spot, and all the rest be decided strictly on power points.
“Why don’t we do away with sections?” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “Whoever has the most power points in your sections is the champ. It’d be a kick in the (butt) if a Tucson school was highest in power points that makes them sectional champions without playing anyone up here.”
In upcoming coaches meetings, many believe they’ll discuss ways to recognize kids’ achievements now that all-region honors will disappear and schools won’t see many other teams within their own section.
“Geography was more important than these factors,” Belles said. “You’re never going get the best 16 teams in the playoffs by having it geographically.”
Proponents believe the changes, which are in effect for the next two years, will help lower transportation costs and were a better alternative than the region alignments in terms of creating change and helping create new or re-kindled matchups.
Others believe the process yielded too many inconsistencies, where schools are no better off (maybe worse) both competitively and economically, while not taking a school’s “resume” into account nearly enough.
Either way, future results will have to tell the story going forward.
“It’s like the NCAA tournament field or whether a Big-12 football power should play an undefeated from a small conference for a BCS bowl or national championship,” Tabor said. “You’re never going to fix that kind of stuff. Never. It’s not going to happen.”