AIA proposes new system of scheduling

In his position as Arizona Football Coaches Association president, Avondale Westview coach Jeff Bowen knows you can’t please all the people all the time.

“You’re never going to make everyone happy,” he said.

That logic will likely hold when it comes to a new proposal put forth by the Computer Scheduling Committee of the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Football coaches — as well as coaches in other sports — will find plenty to like. They’ll also find something they don’t.

The new proposal, to be voted on Monday by the AIA Executive Board, is intended to solve some problems of the current scheduling block. The new system will work as follows:

The AIA’s computer scheduling software will divide teams within a division into sections, which for football would be sections of six or seven teams. That process should be done by Nov. 29.

The scheduling committee will review those sections and make tweaks here and there to accommodate the needs of specific schools or divisions. The sections are then sent to the Executive Board for approval at its Dec. 10 meeting. Final approval after appeals will happen at its Jan. 22 meeting.

The computer scheduling software will then schedule games within each section only, so that every team plays every other team in its section. The schedules will be set for approval at the executive board’s Feb. 19 meeting.

To fill out the remainder of their schedules, schools or programs can then request additional games to their Region Chair, who will bring those requests to the Conference/Division committees. The requests can be made between Feb. 28 and March 14.

Final schedule approval is set for April 18.

The creation of smaller sections or regions — “Call it whatever you want,” Bowen said. “Call it pickles and celery, it doesn’t matter.” — is expected to pass. Smaller sections allow for even competition among schools in each section, and a more straight-forward path to playoff qualification.

In the current system, the top three teams in each section as determined by the AIA/MaxPreps seeding formula earn automatic playoff berths, despite the fact that many teams play relatively few teams in their own section. Under the proposal, an outright section champ would be crowned and earn an automatic berth, although exactly how — by either seeding or sectional record — is not specified.

“It doesn’t matter, just as long as you’re playing everyone in your region or sections, whatever you’re calling them,” Chandler Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “That’s the first thing. I pretty much know that’s going to happen.”

Quirks in determining which schools go in which section are bound to come up — especially when balancing a competitive schedule with travel considerations for schools outside the Valley, such as long existed with the Yuma schools.

Belles, for one, is concerned about being lumped into a section with the three Division I schools in Tucson, and forced to make a couple long road trips because of it. The scheduling committee will try to avoid situations like that, said Goodyear Estrella Foothills Athletic Director Derek Fahleson, who is chairman of the scheduling committee.

“You’re not going to force some team geographically to be in that section if it doesn’t make sense,” Fahleson said.

The thorniest issues arise with how teams fill the remainder of their schedules. In the current scheduling block, football teams were given two freedom games, to schedule against whomever they pleased.

That concept would be dramatically altered under the new proposal.

“There are no freedom games,” Fahleson said. “The proper way to phrase it is ‘requested games'”

If Hamilton wants to play Phoenix Brophy — assuming they end up in different sections, as is likely — either Belles or Brophy coach Scooter Molander would email a formal request to his region chairman. Those requests would be brought to the scheduling committee, which would weigh their merits and build the rest of the schedules for every member program at its discretion, before passing it onto the Executive Board for final approval.

The idea, Fahleson said, is to make sure every school, especially those in remote regions of the state, get a full schedule.

For coaches like Rich Wellbrock of Goodyear Desert Edge, however, that’s less autonomy than programs currently have. If strength of schedule is factored into the seedings, coaches should have the freedom to schedule tougher opponents, he said.

“Otherwise, it doesn’t work,” Wellbrock said. “If you don’t have the choice to make a tougher schedule to get a higher seed, or to play a more difficult schedule, then it doesn’t help.”

Belles can see both sides. He’s had experience with schools preferring not to play Hamilton and having to go down a division to find opponents. Left to him, the AIA would go back to an old system in which teams selected their freedom game opponents in a draft-like format.

“That’s what I would do,” Belles said. “That’s how it should be done.”

The Executive Board has the ability to alter the proposal when it reviews it Monday. Whatever the outcome, many of the issues from the current scheduling block are likely to be resolved. Some, of course, won’t.

Bowen knows that.

“I think the key to getting the most people happy,” he said, “is being able to sit down and work through those things openly.”

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