It may soon be possible to say goodbye to jumbo-sized sections of 14 or more teams, a confusing power point formula, computer scheduling and coaches voting for an all-section team without ever having seen the nominees play.
All were perplexing parts of the division/section alignment that two years ago replaced the conference/region configuration that had been used in the state’s high school sports for decades.
The changes were some of the most sweeping ever done in high school sports in Arizona.
On May 23, the Arizona Interscholastic Association Scheduling Committee announced a set of proposals designed to solve the problems associated with the abolishment of the regional play that for years was a huge part of prep sports.
When computer scheduling and division/section alignment was introduced, it did away with many of the small school rivalries that had existed for decades.
For example, with the 3A East abolished in football, Payson played only one rival — Show Low — from the “Beast of the East” days when the region was widely considered the most competitive in small-town Arizona football.
Although the computer scheduling was intended to reduce travel time and costs, former PHS football coach Byron Quinlan doubts it did because the Longhorns found themselves traveling to Scottsdale Coronado, Chino Valley and Globe.
Next season, which will be the final one in the two-year block under the division/section alignment, Payson will make the nearly six-hour, 300-plus mile trip to River Valley.
“That’s not saving time or money,” said Quinlan.
PHS golf coach Bret Morse was among those to bemoan the end of regional rivalries saying they were healthy for high school sports and players looked forward to those clashes.
Also with regions abolished and replaced by much larger sections, teams didn’t play all the other teams in the section, meaning there was no true sectional champ crowned.
Payson was aligned in the 14-team Division IV Section III and did not play fellow sectional members Buckeye, Cortez, Estrella Foothills, Parker or Wickenburg.
This meant coaches had to pick the all-section team without having seen all of the candidates play.
Quinlan bemoaned that voting process, saying he couldn’t accurately vote for players he had never seen in action.
Under the now defunct conference/ region format, East coaches gathered at the end of the season at a common meeting place to discuss and vote on the all-region team.
But under the division/section configuration, coaches were asked to post their nominees’ credentials on an AIA Web site where coaches then voted.
Tolleson’s Mike Brown was among the coaches to take exception to AIA’s online voting suggestion.
In an e-mail to AzFCA members he wrote, “We are doing all-section like we have done all-region in the past, how it should be done: coaches talking about kids and voting in person.”
He also contended it’s important that voting remains entirely in the hands of the coaches and not with a state entity.
Brown supported continuing the face-to-face voting method by writing, “There is no bylaw in the AIA that says we have to do (online voting).”
The coaches in Brown’s section continued to vote in meetings as they had done for decades.
Some athletic directors took exception to Brown’s e-mail including Estrella Foothills’ Derek Fahleson who followed up the Tolleson coach’s e-mail with one that read, “(Coaches) should be held accountable to follow the process that they are asked to do by utilizing the online voting process.”
He also ruffled more than a few feathers when he wrote that coaches are employees of the districts who should be mandated to vote online rather than “doing their own thing.”
Payson High AD Gary Fishel sided with the AIA’s new process, e-mailing PHS coaches to say the meet-and-discuss method of past years “wouldn’t be official.”
He also wrote he wholeheartedly agreed with Fahleson.
Quinlan and other D-III, S-III coaches continued with the face-to-face voting but then posted the players chosen on the AIA Web site.
The committee’s suggestion
In the scheduling committee’s proposal to rectify some of the problems created by the reconfiguration of two years ago, there will more sections, each formed by geography, in each of the five divisions.
Computer scheduling will continue, but each team will play all the other schools in the same section.
Schools could also request their section chairman to schedule games against non-section opponents.
If the proposal is accepted, a true sectional champion will be crowned based on a won-loss record.
Shades of yesterday, exactly the same way as it was in the 3A East.
Also, when coaches vote for all-section teams, they will have seen all the nominees play at least one time during the season.
Again, just as it formerly was in the East.
Quinlan and others agree seeing all the nominees play will be a more accurate portrayal of who the most deserving players are.
Also in the scheduling committee’s proposal is a suggestion to allow school and district officials from each division to decide how many sections they want, how many teams should be in each section and how to arrange sports schedules.
How each division would determine its post-season playoff teams has yet to be addressed.
Also in the committee’s proposal is a suggestion to ditch the power point formula and replace it with one from MaxPreps, an online sports information site.
The MaxPreps formula puts more emphasis on strength of schedule than it does power points.
Former PHS baseball coach Scott Novack was among those who criticized the power points formula for not giving more credence to strength of schedule, especially last spring when the Horns played one of the toughest schedules in Division III, finishing 16-10 but failing to make the 24-team playoff field.
Power points have also been a lightning rod for criticism, especially last school year when a Gilbert engineer discovered a flaw in the formula.
AIA officials say the scheduling committee’s proposal will not go before the executive board until fall.