AIA caught up in Nevada fight over Sollenberger Classic

As if the Arizona Interscholastic Association doesn’t have enough on its plate here at home, now it apparently is getting pulled into a nasty controversy in Nevada.

If this one blows up, the fallout will likely rain down on Arizona.

The governing body for the state’s high school sports programs has been dealing with various contentious issues this year – from division realignment to inequities in its power-point system – that have prompted some unfavorable reviews from unhappy coaches.

But now the AIA is getting tagged with a new label: co-conspirator.

We posted an article a couple of weeks ago about the agreement between the AIA and its counterpart across the border, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA), that changed the 2012 format that will determine which teams would play in the annual season kick-off game, the Sollenberger Classic.

In recent years, the game has been played between high school football champions in Nevada and Arizona.  Last year a second game was added to the event, and one of the teams invited was a runner-up instead of the small-school state champ.  But the showcase game still included the Nevada big-school champion.

This year, the AIA is inviting two Nevada teams again – but neither of them is a title holder from last season.

Now one of the schools that should have been invited, based on the established guidelines, is calling out the NIAA for making the switch based on politics, for lack of a better description.  The lawyers are already involved.

And the AIA is being targeted as a partner in this alleged conspiracy.

Bishop Gorman High School, which has played in three of the last four Classics, is the defending big-school champion and was expecting to return again this year for the Aug. 18 game.

Gorman is in an escalating feud right now with the NIAA, which the school feels is trying to kick the national powerhouse out of the association.  The governing body is looking into the perceived advantage that Gorman, a private school, might have over its public-school opponents.

The Gaels have won the last three state football championships and are a nationally-ranked team.   The school has also won three of the last four basketball titles, and baseball has pocketed six straight.

The spat has turned into a legal battle and now the decision to pass over Gorman for the Sollenberger Classic has become an issue as well.  Gorman’s attorney is reportedly asking for emails, phone records, and documents that involve the decision to omit Gorman from the Sollenberger Classic.

In an article published yesterday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the AIA’s associate executive director, Chuck Schmidt, denied Gorman’s allegations that NIAA officials influenced the decision to omit the Gaels this year.

Schmidt was quoted defending the team selections:   “I’m going to flat-out, categorically deny there’s any political motivation with how teams are selected.”

But Gorman’s special litigation counsel, Donald Campbell, disagreed.

“We know that is not true,” he said in the same article.  “We have a significant body of evidence that suggests that that is absolutely false and, at some point, I’m sure people will be placed under oath.”

Campbell said he was “confident that the way the Sollenberger Classic was addressed was anything but fair and impartial.”  Ouch.  Sounds like they don’t pull any punches in Nevada.

The AIA undoubtedly expected some blow-back from its decision not to invite state champions this year.  Particularly from the coaches of the Arizona schools invited – Division I champion, Desert Vista High School, and Division IV champion, Blue Ridge High School – who no doubt would have liked to be tested against Nevada’s best.

But it’s probably safe to say the AIA didn’t expect anything like this.