At 9:52 a.m. Monday, I sent a tweet saying the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s executive board had approved a 16-team playoff in Division I football this upcoming season.
With only 17 teams total in Division I, the math was easy and the response on social media was both immediate and harsh.
“So everybody but one team makes the state playoffs in D1 if I’m reading that right?”
“I would hate to be that 1 team in D1 that doesn’t make it.”
“Makes no sense. Why would you do that to 1 team?”
I get it. There will be 57 teams in Division III and 16 will make the playoffs. Only 16 of the 50 teams in Division V will have a chance to play for the state title. So, why in the world should all but one lonely team in Division I reach the postseason?
Simple. Because that’s what those 17 coaches wanted.
Let’s back up for a moment. During the re-classification process, the executive board approved a proposal that called for approximately 30 percent of teams in each division qualifying for the playoffs. There could be no fewer than 12 teams and no more than 16. But during the appeals process, at least a half-dozen schools decided they didn’t want to be in Division I and either successfully appealed down or were thrilled to remain in Division II, where they were initially placed.
That left D-I with just 17 teams and each one of those 17 teams playing a brutal schedule. Easy outs? Forget it. They don’t exist anymore. So, the coaches reasoned, our programs should be rewarded for the degree of difficulty. The reward: 16 of the 17 teams making the playoffs.
Ludicrous? Not at all.
Division I should have 24 teams but too many coaches and administrators wanted the softer landing spot in Division II. I understand their reasoning – it’s extraordinarily difficult to try to compete with teams like Chandler, Chandler Hamilton and Phoenix Mountain Pointe – but their unwillingness to step up created a Super Division, and those 16 teams deserve compensation for fighting it out.
(If you’re wondering why it’s 16 instead of all 17, having 17 teams make the playoffs would create the need for a play-in game, and the AIA doesn’t want to extend the postseason to a fifth week.)
The AIA could have said no to the coaches and stuck to its 30 percent rule. But what has the governing body been repeatedly criticized for these last few years? Bingo: Not listening to its constituents. So, it’s hypocritical to rip the AIA now for doing what the Division I coaches asked.
“We’re trying to say yes to everything,” Executive Director Harold Slemmer said.
There’s danger in being too agreeable. The AIA sometimes has to be the bad guy and say no, if for no other reason than it’s impossible to please every coach of every sport at every school. But in this case, the AIA did the right thing.
Is it absurd that a 7-3 team in Division III might not make the playoffs while a 3-7 team in Division I does? Perhaps. But that’s the consequence when so few schools want to compete with the big boys.
In addition – and thankfully so – the executive board reversed course in determining where playoff games will be held. Last December, the board voted to centralize playoff games, with every game being played at a neutral site in order to cut down on operating costs. But on Monday, it said that the higher seed will host games in the first two rounds.
Two decisions that benefit schools in the same day? I’m not sure how to react to this new accommodating AIA. How do you spell “praise” anyway?
Here’s the end result: The Division I playoffs will be fascinating. Those first-round blowouts will be a thing of the past and it won’t be shocking if a high seed or two doesn’t make it to the quarterfinals. It truly will be survival of the fittest, from the first game in August to the championship game in November.
Just one question: How soon can the season get here?
Photos: High school 2015 spring football practice