AIA to schools: If you wanna play, you’re gonna pay…more

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                </div>  The AIA just can’t seem to put any points on the board.  Once again, the governing body for Arizona high-school sports has struck out with its member schools. But […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The AIA just can’t seem to put any points on the board.  Once again, the governing body for Arizona high-school sports has struck out with its member schools.

But this time it was worse than usual.  Kinda like taking a called third strike with the bases loaded.

The delicate balance of co-existence between the high-school coaching community and the Arizona Interscholastic Association can be contentious at times.  And lately it seems that balance has been tested more than usual.

Last spring, a proposal to add a mileage requirement onto the transfer rule couldn’t get out of the AIA Legislative Council.  The problems that relate to transfer eligibility, and the need to deal with potential violations, has long been an important issue to the schools and coaches because it has the effect of shifting the balance of power to a select group of schools, while weakening others.

The AIA admitted at the time that their people were receiving calls about transfer eligibility on almost a daily basis. Yet they couldn’t get a consensus to take the first step to help alleviate the problem by adding a simple mileage restriction to the current regulations.

And just a couple of months ago, the media brought the issue of transparency and accountability to the forefront, voicing concerns about the fact that the AIA, as a non-profit organization, answers to no one, including the Department of Education.  Since the schools and school districts have little to say about how the AIA spends its money and determines its own leadership, some questioned whether it should be necessary to create an oversight committee to protect their interests.

That idea has suddenly grown in significance after the AIA surprised its 272 member schools with a smorgasbord of fee increases, the result of a shortfall of $519,000 from the 2012-13 school year.  The new charges came out in a June 11 memo to the schools, but coaches and administrators have only become more agitated as they try to come up with an eleventh-hour solution to the financial hit their budgets will take, likely in the thousands of dollars for most programs.

School administrators, caught completely off-guard by the sudden increases, were quick to question how the problem wasn’t detected until now, after most of them have already worked up their budgets for the coming school year.  “I’m kind of curious,” said Steve Hogen in an Arizona Republic article on the front page of its sports section.  “How did this go up $400,000?  I don’t understand that.”

The Mesa Public Schools athletics director was referring to the difference between a budget shortfall of $180,000 the AIA had announced for the 2011-12 school year and the $519,000 that has just come to light for the 2012-13 year.

Chuck Schmidt, the AIA associate executive director, has tried to explain away the need for additional revenues, and the reason for the short notice to the schools.

The primary cause for busting the budget in such a big way he attributed to the rise in costs associated with officials they assign to games and tournaments – which he says accounted for about $350,000 of the losses – and includes legal costs and the background checks the AIA requires from each official.  The last-minute notice to the schools is a result of timing: its board doesn’t deal with the budget until its April and May meetings, and then the budget has to be prepared in time for the start of its fiscal year that begins July 1.

Schmidt pointed out that the organization has taken measures to help contain costs, including laying off several employees, and that, as a non-profit, the organization’s goal is to break even.

They obviously missed that goal with an air ball that naturally calls into question their business acumen.  But it’s the lack of timely notification to its member base, and general lack of good communication, that has prompted this latest round of contention.

Here’s the list of new charges that are giving the school administrators heartburn:

– Fees from $50 to $350 for qualifying teams that want to enter sectional or state tournaments.

– A fee of $100 that must be collected from out-of-state teams entering local tournaments, or be paid by the host school.

– A charge of $10 to cancel a game, or request a change in schedule – unless circumstances are beyond the school’s control.

– A charge of $3 a game to have officials assigned for tournaments.

– In golf, a charge of $15 for a day pass and $25 for an all-tournament pass at the state tournament.

You’ve got to give the boys at the AIA credit for coming up with some creative ways of balancing the budget, that don’t increase the annual dues.  But if they’re going to do it on the backs of the school administrators, they should have asked for their input along the way.

Surprises never go over well when they involve money.