Sollenberger Classic football game in controversy…again

The high school football season is four months away and already we’re dealing with controversy over its opening game.  It feels like 2011 all over again.

For the past four years, the annual Sollenberger Classic that kicks off the Arizona season, has featured a match-up between Arizona and Nevada big-school champions.

Last year a second game was added to the six-year-old showcase of top high school football, but it didn’t include a Nevada champion.  Instead, Arizona’s 3A champion, Show Low High School, played Moapa Valley, a 7-5 team that was a 3A state runner-up in Nevada the year before.

Show Low would have preferred to meet Truckee High, the state champion, even though it couldn’t beat Moapa, dropping a 28-26 decision.  Travel costs were cited for the change in opponents.

The featured game put 5A-II champion Chaparral High against Nevada’s defending champion, Bishop Gorman High School, in accordance with the established format.  The visitors won that one, too, as Gorman routed the Firebirds, 42-22.

This time, it looks like Moapa Valley is returning.  But the bigger issue is that Gorman isn’t.

Bishop Gorman is again the Nevada defending champion and was expected to make the trip back to the Valley for the Aug. 18 game that is run by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.   But it was not one of the teams included in Nevada’s announcement of this year’s participants.

Instead, the two teams from Nevada include Moapa Valley, for its second appearance as a state runner-up in 3A, and Palo Verde High School, which wasn’t even the big-school runner-up.   Palo Verde’s season ended with a loss in the regional championship game.

Arizona will be represented by the Division I champion, Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, and Division IV champion, Lakeside’s Blue Ridge High School.

The AIA doesn’t really need any more controversy.  Arizona’s high school governing body has been knee-deep all year in controversial issues that include the division re-alignment that started last year and has run into complaints about its effect on competitiveness among the smaller school, a major flaw in the power-points system, transfer rules, and the appeals process that enables schools to petition to a different division.

It surely didn’t need this.

To be fair, the AIA insists the selection of the Nevada entries was not its doing – even though schools that participate in the Sollenberger Classic are supposed to be “invited.”  The AIA is pointing the finger at its counterpart in Nevada, the NIAA.

However, the NIAA’s executive director was quoted in the Las Vegas media as saying the decision to send teams other than defending champions was “a collaborative philosphical change.”  Eddie Bonner said he felt Palo Verde and Moapa Valley are a “better fit” for the 2012-2013 season.

That probably didn’t sit too well with the Desert Vista coach, Dan Hinds.  He was expecting to be able to play Bishop Gorman and made his preference known publicly before the announcement came that Gorman wouldn’t be coming.

Maybe Hinds needs to be a little more vocal in expressing his disappointment over this year’s opponent.  According to Chuck Schmidt at the AIA, the invitations haven’t gone out yet and may take another week or two.

After all, the AIA faced a similar decision last year when the organization decided to invite a team from Colorado instead of the usual Nevada opponent.  It was attracted to a team from Mullen High School in Denver, which was the No. 15-ranked team in the nation.

Last March, Gorman was even notified they would not be invited to the 2011 game.  But by April the decision was changed again, and the Gaels were invited for their third appearance.

So maybe Hinds has a sliver of hope that his Desert Vista team will yet get a chance to play Bishop Gorman, which would pit two top-25 nationally-ranked teams and give his program some great exposure.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the AIA has had to change its mind.

In fact, it would offer the beleaguered organization another chance to dispel the general perception that it doesn’t do a very good job of listening to its member schools.

The fans, too, would probably prefer the mighty Gaels.  That makes it a win-win opportunity… doesn’t it?