A double-whammy of news sprang from the AIA legislative meeting on Friday, and the council showed themselves to be wise.
The two biggest nuggets being proposed and voted upon were the ability of a school to appeal up or down a division among any of its sports, and the notion that private schools would automatically be required to play up one division in all sports. Votes were cast and decisions came quickly.
Beginning next fall, schools will be allowed to petition down a division (or possibly more, though that might be difficult) for a given sport. The council also rejected a proposal to require private schools to "play up" a level.
The knee-jerk reaction views this as being for the betterment of Arizona high school sports.
First, the criteria for a successful appeal process should be rigorous, not some turnstile for schools to bounce back-and-forth at will because of a "down" year or two. There should be a mixture of recent history (more than two years) of competitive struggles, a look at the socio-economic backdrop of that school and its students and the size of a sport's participation numbers, not simply the school's total enrollment.
In other words, a schools' sports better bring a compelling case to appeals court.
This isn't merely about Phoenix Metro or Yuma schools that struggle to compete in Division I football, though this should help some of those schools. It's not simply about, say, Coronado girls basketball, or all other programs in the state which struggle mightily in the standings, stands and to simply field a team every year. It's not about making sure every team has a 50-50 (or even reasonable) chance at winning a state championship.
It's about making sure a given school's sport's season isn't essentially over long before it ever starts, which in itself can create a vicious spiral of dwindling participation, interest and competitiveness that - even with a good coach and administration - is supremely difficult to stop.
It's about the genuine feeling of having a chance.
As Mesa's district athletic director Steve Hogen pointed out, it could help scheduling among Yuma, Tucson and out-of-Phoenix schools. It may help better schedule one another and play together within the same division to help with travel costs. It could also help lead to smaller sections within each division than the current alignment.
Remember, too, things can change as part of subsequent two-year blocks in scheduling and alignment, so no school should necessarily feel "trapped" or "stuck" in its place long-term.
As for the private schools, they have different criteria with which they can draw students, but it doesn't mean they're ruling the roost in all sports.
Yes, Brophy, Tucson Salpointe Catholic, Xavier and a few other private schools dominate the so-called "country club" sports (tennis, golf, and swimming). Yes, they play by a few different "rules" because they're private. But it isn't worth punishing many other private schools who are no better than competitively than their public school peers. Besides, the Brophy/Xavier/Salpointe's already compete at the highest levels.
The private schools are succeeding most at individualized sports, and while the team aspect of those sports is no less significant, it's not as if kids elsewhere can't realistically compete individually against private school players.
The private schools' competitive landscape isn't ideal given the depth and training a lot of private school kids can afford, but it's also not in dire need of using a broad brush in the name of undergoing an "overhaul."
This won't work perfectly. It never does. The standards set for successful appeals won't work out for everyone, and it will be difficult to prove a sport is worthy of moving down. Private schools will continue to dominate a few sports and leave others frustrated with the inequity.
A (vast) majority, however, is what's important here when dealing with 272 member schools. They all deserve a chance to better succeed, or at least not be punished for their successes.
Two more hot topics remain: Computer scheduling and transfer rules. Those are coming down the pipeline.
So far the AIA is 2 for 2. Kudos to the council on knowing when to reach out and when to restrain.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.