Quickly. Name the top five state title contenders in 5A Division II and 4A Division II. Are you stumped? Don’t fret. You are not alone.
It used to be so simple figuring out who was competing for state titles in the 5A and 4A conferences. There were a handful of teams in each conference
that had a shot at winning it all. Then there were those in the “all the rest”
Rapid growth in some areas of the state, particularly in certain pockets of the Valley, quickly increased the number of schools in each conference and widened the gaps between the contenders and “all the rest.” There were schools at the bottom of the enrollment rung in each conference that
had virtually no chance of making the playoffs.
In an attempt to even the playing field, the 5A and 4A conferences split into two divisions prior to this season.
While order appears to have been maintained in the top divisions — Hamilton and Mountain View still reign in 5A and Glendale Cactus and Chaparral in 4A — parity, or insanity is rampant in the lower divisions.
Right now, you probably would have as good a chance of picking a Division II winner out of a hat as trying to decipher it logically.
As the alleged expert of 4A football at the Tribune, I have the task of ranking the state’s top five 4A Division II teams. In the first three weeks of the
season, the team I had ranked No. 1 lost — badly. The same virtually holds true for the lower division of 5A.
Perhaps the biggest reason why it’s hard to determine which teams are for real in the two lower divisions is that many teams in those categories have tried to do battle with Division I teams. In most cases, the outcome has not been pretty. Those teams have some lopsided losses whiles teams that have played lower division brethren have unscathed records.
Is this split good? Apache Junction coach Max Ragsdale thinks so. His Prospectors took their lumps in 4A until the split. Now in 4A-II, the Prospectors are 3-2.
“I think it has evened the playing field. which is why we did this,” said Ragsdale.
“It’s like the NFL with parity. All this crap about it being watered down is wrong.”
Ragsdale was referring to comments that splitting the 5A and 4A conferences into two divisions has resulted in two extremely strong top divisions and two divisions filled with teams that don’t deserve to keep playing when the regular season is over.
Critics of the split make some good points. It may seem unjust that a team in
the upper division of 5A or 4A sits home during the playoffs while teams that normally get whipped by the powerhouses still play on via the Division II playoffs.
It also seems odd that more than half the field in Division II — 28 teams each
in 4A and 5A — makes the postseason when most of these teams weren’t even
close last season.
Steve Hogen, the athletic director for the Mesa School District, agrees the split is
good in that it gives hope to schools that normally had no chance to make the playoffs. But Hogen doesn’t like a system that rewards poor records.
“My concern is in Division II, you may have teams 3-7 that make the playoffs,” he said.
He may be right. Heading into tonight’s games, there are three 5A-II teams tied
for what would be the final playoff spot, owning 1-3 records. In 4A-II, 1-3 Flagstaff Sinagua and 2-3 Notre Dame are tied for the final playoff spot.
The split is better than what existed before the separation of the two conferences
— games that were so lopsided by halftime that a running clock was used in
the second half to end the annihilation as quickly as possible. But if we have sub-.500 teams making the playoffs, the system must be changed.