AIA handling division appeals process in right way

AIA handling division appeals process in right way


AIA handling division appeals process in right way


Once upon a time — before open enrollment, transfers and parents chasing a college scholarship — high school football was as much about competition as it was championships.

Oh, every team wanted to win the grand prize at the end of the season, but there was value and nobility in playing your best on a Friday night.

But as the landscape and mind-set changed, the life lessons taught by a coach were no longer as important. The seasons in which a team maximized its potential — no matter the results — weren’t satisfactory. Winning became paramount because the programs that didn’t would wilt under the new rules.

That evolution — or de-evolution, if you will — was the impetus behind the massive number of athletic programs trying to take advantage of the appeals process enacted by the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s legislative council.

Before the policy was adapted, AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer predicted a “few” schools would try to appeal their division placement.

Well, if few meant 527 he had it right. And of those 527, there were 463 appealing to go down a division — or two. Only 64 programs appealed to play up.

“I don’t remember that attitude being prevalent at all years ago,” Slemmer said. “Coaches out there wanted to play the best. But there’s an overemphasis now on winning: Everybody thinks they should have a shot to win the state championship every year.”

Make no mistake: Allowing schools to appeal was the right thing to do. Enrollment size is an archaic way to determine placement, and the legislative council recognized that many programs — Phoenix Carl Hayden, Phoenix Alhambra and San Luis in Division I football, for example — simply can’t compete at their current level.

But some schools tried to twist the process into something it wasn’t supposed to be.

Laveen Cesar Chavez and Phoenix Horizon reached the playoffs in Division II this season, and their combined record was 17-5. But when the initial division placements were released for the 2013-2015 scheduling block, each program’s growing enrollment resulted in a jump to Division I.

The schools had two choices: Accept the challenge of playing with the best teams in the state or appeal back down to Division II.

Both schools appealed.

Will it be more difficult for Cesar Chavez and Horizon to win in Division I? No question. But it’s not as if the schools have the same issues as a San Luis or Phoenix Maryvale.

More importantly, the appeals were not intended to give good teams a better shot at winning a state title. They were implemented to give struggling programs a chance to be competitive.

The winning-is-everything mentality also prevented some schools — Scottsdale Chaparral, Scottsdale Saguaro and Peoria Centennial are three examples — from doing the right thing and moving up a division. Apparently, beating up on the same schools year after year after year is much more satisfying.

“If you’re afraid to go up, that’s ridiculous,” said Mesa Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock, whose Jaguars made the jump from Class 5A Division II to Class 5A Division I in 2009. “I think a lot of it is based on apprehension. When we went up to Division I we were the second smallest school, but we didn’t fuss about it. Sink or swim we knew that’s where we had to go. And it’s amazing what happens when you learn to adapt.”

Fortunately, the football advisory committee that heard the appeals understood the spirit of the policy and made, for the most part, the right calls. Horizon and Cesar Chavez will stay in Division I — unless for some strange reason the AIA’s executive board overrules the committee’s judgment. But stressed programs such as Tempe McClintock, Mesa Westwood and Phoenix St. Mary’s were granted their appeals.

The committee also made the right decision in not allowing Phoenix metro schools Alhambra, Carl Hayden and Central to drop from Division I to Division III, as they requested. Let’s see how they do in Division II for two years before considering another drop in class.

All along, the appeals process should have had one end game: Did it give struggling programs a chance and kids an opportunity to savor their athletic season, even if that means a .500 record?

From here, it appears the AIA has done just that.


Reach Bordow at or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at


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