New division alignments, scheduling frustrate prep teams

The new division alignments for Arizona high school sports programs are coming to the end of a two-year shake-out period that has uncovered a number of ‘challenges’ for the schools involved.

As the high school winter sports season winds down, new issues have arisen as a result of the computer scheduling that is now being used with the re-alignment of the team sports.

Basketball and soccer teams have been trying to deal with as many as three games in a single week, and oftentimes go long stretches on the road before finding a home game on the schedule.

The new program, which replaced the old regional conferences with divisions and regional sections, was begun last year for individual sports such as golf and tennis.  This year, the major team sports like football, basketball,  soccer, and baseball are getting a chance to try out the new system.

The division alignments, created and implemented by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, were supposed to help with the economic belt-tightening that is facing high school sports programs.   It was designed as a way to try to minimize travel costs for the schools, which is a good chunk of their budgets.

Last year was the initial test, as the individual sports began working with the new program.  This year, the team sports competed under the new alignments, and computer programs made all the scheduling decisions – a job handled in the past by the coaches and athletic directors.

While the schools were supposed to benefit from a cost-cutting standpoint, the AIA also saw it as a way to save some money for the organization, which governs sports programs across the state.  For example, in some of the programs for individual sports, the AIA is now hosting a single tournament instead of a separate tournament for every division.

The first schools to encounter problems with the new system were the smaller schools in the rural communities.  With the new alignment, some high schools that had enrollments of several hundred students were scheduled against those with more than a thousand kids.

It’s tough to have aspirations of a great season when the playing field is so lopsided.  In the team sports, with football as a good example, winning a championship has now become much more difficult – even impossible for some of the programs that don’t draw the top athletes – because the new system allows for fewer teams to earn a spot in the playoffs.

And then there are the years-in-the-making traditional rivalries that no longer exist because your rival is no longer on your schedule.  Poof!  No more big game to circle on the calendar.

The intentions of the AIA were well-placed.  But it appears some tweaking is in order.

Maybe it’s time for the coaches to get involved again and give the computers a hand.