Sollenberger Classic has teams now, but no place to play

Just when the AIA thought they had this year’s Sollenberger Classic figured out, the good folks at Northern Arizona University dropped a cluster bomb on the organization’s plans.

The Barry Sollenberger Kickoff Classic is held each fall, matching up high school state champion teams from Arizona and Nevada.  The annual high-profile football game is run by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Last year, 5A-I state champion Hamilton High School in Chandler beat the Nevada large-school champion, Bishop Gorman High, 24-17.  Both were nationally-ranked teams.

It was expected that Gorman would be back this year, but then the AIA changed plans to include a team from Colorado instead.  The team under consideration was Denver’s Mullen High School, which finished last season as the No. 15-ranked team in the nation.

The AIA also changed the format this year to be able to add a second game to give smaller schools a chance to participate.

But in March, the organization was still trying to decide which schools to invite to the party.  At that point, they reported that Scottsdale’s Chaparral High School, the 5A-II state champion would take on a Colorado team, instead of the usual Nevada invitee.  And the under-card game would likely be Show Low High, the 3A champion, against a Nevada team.

Gorman received notification from the AIA that they would not be invited for the 2011 game.  Instead, it was expected that Mullen would get the nod.

However, by April that had changed.  Gorman received an invitation to play Chaparral in the Aug. 20 game. The Firebirds are expected to get a top-20 national pre-season ranking; they came in at No. 24 in rankings just released by MaxPreps.

That means the game will likely be featuring two nationally-ranked teams again this year.

And Show Low’s opponent became Moapa Valley High from Nevada.

But the decision to invite Moapa Valley also created some ripples, since the Truckee Wolverines had beaten Moapa Valley in last year’s 3A championship game.  Moapa Valley finished its season with an unimpressive 7-5 record; Show Low was 13-1.

So, after all the juggling, the participants had finally been established.  And the venue would be the Skydome in Flagstaff, the home field for the NAU Lumberjacks.

But now that’s changed.

NAU officials have notified the AIA that the Skydome football field will not have completed renovations that have been going on since the close of last football season.  The facility isn’t expected to be ready until Sept. 10.

According to today’s article in The Arizona Republic, the AIA has no plans to change the date.

This could prove to be a much bigger challenge than figuring out which teams to invite.

Stay tuned.