2012 was full of penalty flags & fumbles in AZ prep sports

There is always a lot going on behind the scenes in high school sports, coordination and organization issues that must be handled apart from what happens during the games or in practices.

And 2012 has been a year of constant motion, and emotion, in Arizona athletics.

The latest issues that have come to the surface to close out the year are minor when compared to the big picture.  Both are pegged to the bylaws of the Arizona Athletic Association, the governing body for prep sports in the state.

Apparently, the Arizona Football Coaches Association is making plans to move the date of its annual All-Star game.  But the proposed Jan. 21 date would fall during the school year and that would violate a bylaw that restricts that kind of event from interfering with school schedules.

And, at the same time, the AIA is dealing with a recurring thorn in its side.  The organization has rescinded the membership of Westwind Prep Academy for an issue related to the AIA finance bylaw that involves membership dues, participation fees, and the like.

The two entities have butted heads in the past.  Over the summer the school announced the development of a national high school team that would not play local schools and would not become a member of the AIA – although the school also fields a varsity team that is a member.  The other high school coaches in the state weren’t happy with that move, which caused even greater angst when some of the better players left their current schools to go play at Westwood.

And the year before, the AIA was busy investigating whether the boarding school used ineligible players to trample other teams on its schedule on the way to winning a state championship.  Its starting roster included a player from China, two from Latvia, and two from Detroit.

But the AIA has had a full plate this year as it struggled with issues that were much more far-reaching.  Schools finished out the 2011-12 school year, still trying to cope with major changes that were a result of a changeover to computer-based computer scheduling and realignment of the divisions.

And before the spring sports could even get started, someone discovered an apparent flaw in the power points system which was giving an advantage to teams that played more games and possibly leaving others out of the playoffs when they deserved to be included.  The AIA was reluctant to admit there was an error in the formula, but did manage to rectify the problem.

By the time summer rolled around, the AIA’s scheduling committee was tossing out proposals that would begin to resolve some of the more flagrant problems that came with the earlier changes, such as the reduction in the number of divisions, converting regions to large sections, and the elimination of region rivalries.

And while the switch to computer scheduling did accomplish its main objective, to help schools reduce travel costs, it also created other problems which needed to be addressed in time to make changes before the next two-year scheduling block that begins with the 2013-14 school year.

All of this was taking its toll on the credibility of the AIA, which does not get a lot of love anyhow from the coaches.  About this time The Arizona Republic made public the results of a survey it had taken with the coaches and school administrators, showing that almost 65 percent of the respondents didn’t feel the decisions the AIA was making were in the best interest of the athletes.

The survey also showed a strong disapproval for the recent changes.

And let’s not forget the tangled mess that emerged as participants were announced for this year’s Barry Sollenberge Kick-off Classic, the game between Arizona state champions and Nevada title-holders that signals the start of a new season.

The Nevada big-school champion, Bishop Gorman High School, should have been invited, based on the format of pitting champs against each other.  Instead, the AIA invited Palo Verde High, which wasn’t even the runner-up.  Gorman school officials accused the Nevada and Arizona associations of playing politics with the selection and allegations were thrown back and forth for months.

The issue was finally resolved and the fifth annual event was staged and resulted in wins for Desert Vista High School in the big-school match-up and Blue Ridge High School in the undercard game.  All was good again.

But that was but one bump in the road during a rocky summer of discontent.

So it was not surprising that a large group of coaches showed up on the AIA’s doorstep in late August to air some of their concerns with the AIA board members.  Frustration had reached the boiling point.

They expressed their dissatisfaction with the new computer scheduling, but also wanted to let the governing body know it would be in the best interests of the players if the start of the season were moved back at a least week to move a little farther out of the late August heat.

The coaches also wanted more information about the new AIA partnership that had been formed with MaxPreps; they had been informed about its development, but had few details about how it would affect their programs and what kind of involvement would be required on their part.  A lack of communication became a central issue.

From all indications, those coaches got answers to their questions and we’ve managed to get through the fall sports programs without incident.  But there are five more months to this school year, and another new calendar year lurks just around the corner – undoubtedly full of new twists and turns .

But it would be hard to visualize another year any more challenging than the one we’re finishing up.