Realignment Hot Topic Around Arizona

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Prep football pundits from around the state are scratching their collective noggins trying to project where the Arizona Interscholastic Association realignment for 2011 to 2013 will place their favorite teams.

The new system is already in place for cross country, but the realignment in football and other team sports will not begin until next school year.

In cross country, Payson High School was placed in Division III, along with 46 other teams, some of which are former Class 4A schools. The others are mostly former 3A schools.

From Division III, Payson was aligned in the 17-team Section II, which also includes some 4A schools, all the former East schools and most all the North Region teams.

So, say goodbye to the 3A conference and the East Region — they are only relics and fond memories.

Football’s realignment, however, could be different than what it is in cross country and other so-called “individual” sports.

In football, the realignment includes six divisions — 1 through 5 will include current 2A to 5A schools. Division 6 will house schools that play eight-man football.

Each of the 1 through 5 divisions will contain about 40 teams and each division will have three sections.

While it’s impossible to predict where the Longhorns will land, it could be in Division 4 which would also include all the current 3A teams as well as some 4A II schools like Mingus, Coconino, Flagstaff, Seaton Catholic, Scottsdale Coronado, Tempe and Sabino.

If the division stacks up as projected, schools range in student population from the smallest Round Valley (514 pupils) to the largest Flagstaff (1,443).

Which means, Round Valley and other small school football teams would be at a huge disadvantage if they were to meet a school with more than double their enrollment figures such as Flagstaff, Sabino (1,374) or Tempe (1,347).

Such a scenario could occur in divisional playoffs.

Round Valley is currently a 3A school, but AIA officials might decide in the realignment to place the Elks in Division 5 where the schools’ student count would be similar to others.

Camp Verde, which will most likely be a Division 5 school, has 466 students and Hopi, also probably D5, has 468 pupils.

Of course, schools can appeal the AIA realignment placements, which almost always happens.

In 2008, during the last realignment, Fountain Hills was assigned to the 3A East Region.

But school bigwigs balked at the idea of playing in the East and appealed to be moved to the South. The appeal was granted, even though it didn’t seem to make much sense because it left the East as the smallest region with six schools and the South became the largest with eight.

The new realignments for the next two-year schedule block will be announced following and AIA Executive Board meeting on Oct. 18. Appeals from schools will be heard Oct. 19 to 25 and preliminary placements made public Nov. 2. Final placements will be etched in stone on Nov. 15.

After that, the process of placing teams in their respective sections begins.

Because Payson is located in dead center Arizona, the Longhorns could conceivably be aligned in any of the three sections, including Tucson.

However, if what the AIA did in cross country continues true in football, Payson would be assigned to a 13- or 14-team section with all the current East and North teams.

Such an alignment would prove tough on the Northern Arizona reservation football teams because most are traditionally not as competitive as those from the East where football reigns supreme.

Once the division (state) playoffs roll around, Payson could find itself where it was in 2003 and 2004 when the Horns were a member of the 4A Grand Canyon Region playing the likes of Flagstaff, Mingus, Page and Coconino.

The sectional alignments will be announced Jan. 18.

If the format the AIA used in cross country holds true in football, one-half of the teams from sectional competition will advance to the division or state tournament.

In announcing the realignment plan last year, AIA officials argued it would cut travel time for school teams and reduce the number of state tournaments — a cost saving move.

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