When the Arizona Football Coaches Association (AzFCA) got together for the meeting on Friday, there is a good chance Pete Walheim got a lot of pats on the back.
The Highland football coach was the only one of all the traditional big-school programs that were placed in Division II to vehemently oppose the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s (AIA) initial placement.
And the school backed him by appealing up on Tuesday to get placed in Division I.
“I respect the heck out of Pete Walheim,” Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke said. “He’s a great guy and we played against him. When he opted to go back to DI I hope it sent a message to some of these other programs.”
Even if it did it won’t matter for three more years after the appeal process for football came to an end this week and Division I was left to look a little skimpy.
After the AIA’s formula, which included enrollment, free lunches and past success, spit out 22 teams as Division I football programs, eight programs attempted to appeal out with six of those being granted.
Ironwood Ridge, Cienega, Desert Mountain, Campo Verde, Queen Creek, Mountain Ridge had their appeal to Division II granted.
Chaparral and Centennial were denied while Highland’s move from Division II to Division I puts the final number at 17.
“It’s kind of silly if you ask me,” Zupke said. “On one hand I can say it is tightly packed and you won’t get a week off. On the other, I am really disappointed in our state right now. Our premier division is down to 17 teams and it is borderline shameful.”
The feeling on this is somewhat split with some of the Division I coaches saying if a program wants out let them go, while others thinks it is crazy that large enrollment schools like Corona de Sol, Dobson, Gilbert and Mesa are in DII and didn’t take the same stance as Walheim and the Hawks.
“The plan was always to be Division I,” Walheim said. “There is nothing out there that tells me we are not a Division I team. You can’t convince me that we are not competitive enough to be a Division I school.”
The bigger programs that have been placed in DII are being rewarded, not that a playoff is guaranteed by any means, for not performing well. One coach said it is a mirror of society in that they are “given a pass for bad administration and coaching” instead of getting better.
Hamilton coach Steve Belles had a similar sentiment.
“I am disappointed that more teams don’t want to compete in Division I,” Belles said. “More than anything else there are some schools that I don’t think need to be in Division II. I think they have underachieved in Division I and got a free pass to DII. It’s unfortunate that some of the coaches didn’t want to stay in Division I and want to compete.”
The other side of that is the belief that most teams can’t compete for a championship as only a handful of teams begin each year with a chance at a state championship, citing Hamilton making eight straight title games.
Yet Chandler never won a state title until this year, the 2013 state champion — Mountain Pointe — had not won one before that and Desert Vista, the 2011 champion, hadn’t earned a ring since 1998.
It’s proof that a program can rise up and not be resigned to a first-round exit.
“The elephant in the room is the disparity between select East Valley schools and the next tier of schools,” Zupke said. “Nobody is afraid to compete against Pinnacle. I am not crying a river at all. It’s the cards I am dealt. I am most disappointed in my peers that are choosing to stay (in DII). It’s not ever going to be fair. Just deal with the cards you are dealt and get better.”
Next up will be deciding how the division will be set up in regards to sections, scheduling and state qualification.
The AIA has said a minimum of 12 teams will make the playoffs, but that was when they expected to be closer to 24 teams in Division I.
There was time — 2010 — when sections weren’t limited to classification, which would make scheduling easier as well.
In other words, stay tuned.
“It doesn’t take anything away from winning a state title,” Brophy coach Scooter Molander said of the 17-team Division I setup. “You are playing the best of the best. Do I wish we could find a way to get more teams in Division I? You bet.
“There is more work to be done here. Any idea is worth looking into. We don’t know how it is going to play out yet.”
For a look at the appeals and new division placement for all sports and schools, go to aiaonline.org.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.