The Super Bowl is over for another year. But Arizona high schools are just getting started on the road to their own “Super Bowl” that will follow the conclusion of next season.
The idea is to provide a means of determining who really deserves bragging rights as the best prep football program in the state.
Why is it needed? Well, consider this:
Saguaro High School‘s football team has played in three different conferences over the last six years, moving up or down with each new scheduling block, as they racked up an unbelievable six consecutive state championships, the first prep team in Arizona history to accomplish that feat. The last two years they played in the 4A Conference.
In the 5A conference, Centennial High just won its second straight state championship, and third over the last four years.
In 6A, the state’s top conference, Chandler High just completed a three-peat, winning its third straight title and fourth in the last five years.
None of the three championship games were even close. Saguaro won its game with Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic by nearly 30 points; Centennial rolled over previously undefeated Scottsdale’s Notre Dame Prep, 60-7; and Chandler routed Gilbert’s Perry High, 65-28.
So, after each season the discussions begin about which team is really the best in the state – regardless of conference.
Now, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) is providing a way to settle the argument. The governing body for high school sports in Arizona unanimously approved a proposal a couple of weeks ago that establishes an Open Division playoff that would include the top eight teams from the three big-school conferences.
A computer ranking system will be used to pull together the eight teams from the 4A, 5A, and 6A conferences, throw them together in a bracket arrangement similar to the College Football Playoffs, and let them compete head-to-head to determine who gets to carry the mantle of “the best high school football team in Arizona” into the next season.
Each of the conferences will continue, as usual, to play a 16-team playoff format, with a champion crowned in each conference. But the winner of the Open Division tournament will be considered the state champion. And that final championship game could be compared to the Super Bowl, but at a different level of competition. (No parades down Central Avenue after the game or invitation to the White House.)
According to the AIA, the majority of the coaches polled on the new format approve the idea. However, there are those who have expressed concerns that the new Open Division will water down the significance of winning your own conference.
This new idea has been kicked around for several years, but finally looks like it will become a reality, beginning with the 2019 season. Of course, it will probably take a few seasons to determine whether the new format has legs.
But Arizona may be on the cutting edge of a new idea that could be adopted by states all around the country — once this state shows it can work here.