Arizona Interscholastic Association's examination of automatic promotion plan for high school sports programs makes sense

Arizona Interscholastic Association's examination of automatic promotion plan for high school sports programs makes sense

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Arizona Interscholastic Association's examination of automatic promotion plan for high school sports programs makes sense

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The Arizona Interscholastic Association has tried to restore competitive balance to high school sports.

Few, if any, of its attempts have worked. The same schools are winning. The same schools are losing.

But there is one final step the AIA hasn’t taken: Forcing successful teams to move up a division. Schools can appeal up or down, but there’s nothing in place to mandate the promotion of teams that are dominating their current classification.

That may be about to change.

AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer said the AIA this fall will examine the idea of automatic promotion. Any change wouldn’t be implemented until the two-year scheduling block beginning in 2015, but make no mistake: The ball has begun to roll, and it’s going downhill.

“I’m in favor of anything that creates objectivity,” Slemmer said.

Slemmer is intrigued by a proposal that is expected to be passed by the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s board of directors later this month. The proposal forcibly promotes teams based on a points system over a two-year window.

Here’s how it works: Teams that accumulate six points or more over those two years would be bumped up to the classification of the next-larger enrollment class. Winning a state championship is worth four points, and points also are rewarded for sectional, regional and semi-state titles.

“It’s certainly a controversial topic,” said Jason Wille, sports information director for the Indiana association. “Some schools view it as a penalty. Others say they’ll embrace it as a challenge.”

The AIA hasn’t even begun to think about a points system. But it’s not difficult to invent one for Arizona, with five points as the baseline for moving teams up:

A state championship is worth four points. A runner-up finish is worth two points. A semifinal appearance is worth one point.

Using that methodology, the only teams bumped up would be those that won two straight titles, those that were champions one year and runners-up the next or those with one semifinal appearance and a state title. (Section championships might be worth points, too, if they iron out a consistent way to handle sections.)

The criterion is strict enough that it would only impact the truly elite programs in each division. In football, for example, the lone teams that accumulated enough points the last two years were Pinetop-Lakeside Blue Ridge and Chandler Seton in Division IV and Phoenix Northwest Christian and Yuma Catholic in Division V.

In basketball, the teams were the Gilbert Christian boys in Division III, Winslow girls in Division III and the Tempe Prep and Scottsdale Salt River girls in Division IV.

The plan has two obvious advantages: It would help level the playing field, and it would replace the recently approved and ill-advised legislative council bylaw that forces private teams to move up a division regardless of their win-loss record.

“I think it would be a more objective way of moving teams up,” Slemmer said. “There wouldn’t be an appeal or anything. It would happen because of their success.”

There are some drawbacks, though. There’d need to be a provision in place to move teams back down if they struggle in the higher division. Also, natural rivalries might be eliminated in some cases — Winslow wouldn’t be in the same section as other reservation schools, for example — and travel costs would skyrocket for a rural school like Blue Ridge.

“As you follow this argument all over the country, it’s going back and forth, back and forth,” Slemmer said.

“But I think we could evolve in that direction.”

Clearly, the AIA would have to solve such issues as travel, something Indiana isn’t as concerned about. (Indiana has 36,420 square miles, compared to 114,006 for Arizona). But the general concept is sound.

High school sports should be about equal opportunity — for every school and every team. Unfortunately, that ideal has been swallowed up by the tidal wave of open enrollment, socioeconomics, lax transfer rules and the creation of destination schools.

Forcing ultra-successful teams to move up a division won’t solve all the problems.

But it’s an idea worth considering.

Reach Bordow at scott.bordow@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.

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