COMMENTARY: Time to realign the AIA’s super teams

Saguaro forces a fumble against Mingus in the first round state. The Sabercats go for their fifth straight title on Saturday. (James Kelley/VVN)

Saguaro forces a fumble against Mingus in the first round state. The Sabercats go for their fifth straight title on Saturday. (James Kelley/VVN)

It’s time for the big school AIA state championships games, but it’s also time to reconsider those classifications.

On Saturday Arizona Stadium in Tucson hosts the 4A, 5A and 6A state football championship games. However the system could use a change.

For years high school sports in Arizona went from 1A to 5A as the biggest. Then they altered it to split 4A and 5A in to four divisions: 4A-I, 4A-II, 5A I, 5A II.

Then they changed up against, dramatically altering the classifications, with Division I to Division VI, with Division I being the biggest.

Last year thankfully they switched back to the A’s, with 1A being the smallest and 6A being the biggest. This brought back regions instead of sections and the regions had much better names like Grand Canyon Region, something you can remember, rather than Section II.

Hooray, we’re Division III Section II champions! Put that on the gym wall.

Anyway, the other big change with the 2016-17 school came a return to classifying teams based on enrollment.

That sounds fine and everything but it’s a flawed system. On paper it makes sense, why should a school that has 493 students play a school that has 3,850?

It’s much, much harder for a school with less kids to compete with a school that has way more. However there is more to high school sports success than pure numbers.

In pursuit of the ideal system the AIA tried aligning schools by taking into account the school’s successes, how many kids they have on free or reduced lunch and of course in enrollment.

This was not a popular system and led to goofy situations like where Camp Verde softball lost the 2016 state championship game to Pueblo, which according to the AIA’s enrollment figures from October 2015 had 1,604 students compared to Camp Verde’s 442.

After that system was abandoned, the AIA returned to classifying teams based purely on enrollment. Schools were able to appeal those placements but basically they are put in each conference based on how many kids they have.

Ranking them based purely on enrollment is flawed though. If you have 3,000 students but 2,750 of them would rather play Call of Duty, march in the band or participate in the school plays rather than play sports, what good does that high enrollment figure do for you?

Or you might have schools that are way under where they should be classified.

On Saturday in the 4A state championship game, Scottsdale Saguaro faces Tucson Salpointe Catholic, seeking the Sabercats’ fifth straight state championship and 10th this century. Saguaro has won 34 straight games against Arizona teams.

This comes after they lost 30 seniors from last year’s team. That sounds like a college football team, no wait, college football teams can only give out 25 scholarships a year, so their classes are basically smaller than that.

Speaking of scholarships, last year the Sabercats had 18 players with Division I scholarship offers.

They should play teams at their skill level. What if USC football dropped to the Big Sky Conference just because they had the same enrollment as some schools there?

Five state championships in a row would be a state record.

In 4A boys basketball, Shadow Mountain won the last two state titles and three since 2014. Like Saguaro, their main concern is out of state teams, they’re going for the national championship.

To aid in that goal, the Matadors have five big time transfers from out of state.

What about a system where schools like that play the other top fight schools?

It would be much more fair. According to those AIA numbers, Saguaro’s was 1,323 and Mingus Union’s 1,207 but while the Marauders were a good 4A team, Saguaro is more a football factory and of course the Sabercats knocked Mingus Union out of the playoffs.

Saguaro is so next level that they have eight jerseys and four pairs of pants this season.

What about alignment based not on how many kids were in school the day they counted but doing so based on performance like they do in California? Instead of placing them by enrollment why not do so based on how many kids those teams have? Again, it doesn’t matter how many students you have if they are all playing other sports or doing other activities.

Isn’t the whole point of aligning schools based on enrollment to be fair you don’t have some giant Phoenix school playing a tiny small school?

Having teams play teams at their level should be the goal in alignment and doing so based on performance makes the most sense. You wouldn’t put kids in a remedial class in with the honor students just because their class sizes are similar.

Classifying the schools by enrollment is weird because some are rural, some urban, some suburban, some public, some private and some charter.

Just base it on performance and how many are on each team.

It’s time to level the playing field.

2017 AIA football state championship games on Saturday

4A: noon

5A: 3:30 p.m.

6A: 7 p.m.


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