There are substantial alterations coming for the 2011 football season.
Last year, the Arizona Interscholastic Association passed sweeping changes that enlarged divisions, changed scheduling parameters and overhauled the postseason format. The reconfiguration affects everyone, and went into effect last season for individual sports, as well as the badminton and tennis team tournaments. Team sports will switch to the new format this season. Here are the significant changes, and how they will affect East Valley football teams this season:
Old way: For the past six seasons, there have been seven separate divisions with about 35 teams each at the 4A and 5A levels. The largest was 5A-I, followed by 5A-II, 4A-I, 4A-II, 3A, 2A and 1A.
New way: While other sports have pared down the divisions considerably, football only cut one. For the next two-year block, the largest will be Division I, followed by Division II, Division III, Division IV, Division V and Division VI.
What it means: There will be more teams in each division, which should add to increased competition for playoff spots and state championships. Avondale Westview is one notable team moving up from the second-largest division to the largest. Canyon del Oro and Notre Dame are moving up from 4A to Division II, while Saguaro, Thunderbird, Williams Field and Queen Creek will all be together in Division III. The split has more effect on a sport like basketball, where the number of teams in each division has been dramatically increased. Since football only cut one division, the change isn’t major.
Coaches’ comments: Cactus Shadows’ Greg Davis: “The fact that you get to spark some new rivalries, and for us, bringing back rivalries — Pinnacle used to be a big game for us — I think that the way they have it is definitely a good thing.”
Seton Catholic’s Rex Bowser: “Sometimes we got overwhelmed by speed and athleticism (in 4A-II). We’re still going to be playing against some really good athletes, but there won’t be as many of them (in Division IV). They don’t have 60 guys on the sidelines. I think (Seton’s players) are excited about it, but we’re still the second smallest school, so we’ll temper it. But it’s a new opportunity.”
Old way: Teams were divided into regions, generally ranging in size from five-to-eight teams. Each division had between four and nine regions.
New way: Each division is now boiled down to just three sections. These are much bigger than the regions were, with as many as 15 teams in some sections. Consequently, teams will no longer play every opponent within its section.
What it means: Some coaches have a problem with this new format, because fewer kids will get recognition in the larger All-Section teams. Also, it will be harder for the coaches to vote on the postseason section awards because they won’t play each team in their section. The change was made in part because of economics, as the larger selection of schools made the computer scheduling easier to match teams up in closer proximity. Competitively, the talent is not spread out equally. Hamilton, Chandler, Basha, Desert Ridge and Mesquite are in Division I’s Section II. Brophy, Mountain Pointe, Desert Vista, Red Mountain and Mountain View are in Section III, while Section I has Westview and not much else.
Coaches’ comments: Davis: “The one thing that’s a little disappointing is the lack of league titles. That’s a big absence in high school football, the fact that there’s no league championships.”
Mountain Pointe’s Norris Vaughan: “There is some inequity there, but there isn’t anything we can do about it. We are just going to play and not worry about anything we can’t control.”
Old way: The region winners automatically qualified for the postseason, and at-large bids rounded out the 16-team field.
The seedings were determined by power points. If a region winner landed outside the top 16, it would take the No. 16 seed and bump out the lowest at-large team.
New way: There will be a 16-team bracket for the top five divisions, and a 12-team bracket in 8-man Division VI. The top three teams from each section, based on power rankings, automatically qualify for the postseason. There will be seven at-large qualifiers for the top five divisions, and three for Division VI.
What it means: The bulk of the at-large teams should come from Sections II and III, which consist of the East Valley programs. Section I is guaranteed three spots, though, which has some East Valley powers worried that deserving teams could miss out.
Coaches’ comments: Vaughan: “With our schedule we could go 6-4 and not make the playoffs if we don’t make the top (three) in our section.”
Old way: Teams would automatically face off with their region opponents, and then hand-pick the non-region games.
New way: Computer scheduling decided eight of the games, weighing travel heavily. The other two games were chosen by the schools.
What it means: Scheduling is never going to be a flawless process. There are too many teams with too many motives to satisfy everyone. Not surprisingly, the East Valley teams are going to play tougher schedules than teams from Phoenix, Yuma or Tucson. However, this has always been the case. Some coaches would prefer the old method, but the realities of the economy made the AIA go to computer scheduling.
Coaches’ comments: Queen Creek’s Joe Germaine: “It was an interesting process. I am kind of new to this. The one thing that was tough was the eight-game (computer) schedule, and you had to find (the other two games). It was almost a crapshoot. That was difficult, but I know there’s never a perfect system.”
Westwood’s Greg Mendez: “I like it. I really do. We’ve got the Mesa schools back, which is exciting for kids and the teachers and people who used to play here. People complained about the travelling and radius and geography, but we don’t care who we play. It was interesting having eight teams thrown at us. We have six road games but we can’t control it and aren’t going to worry about it. I liked it.
“Some are set in their ways but it’s exciting to get some different teams we’ve all never seen before. It can get your battery going again and give the kids something new.”
• AFN writer Jason P. Skoda contributed to this story.