There's never a shortage of head-scratching and even jaw-dropping when it comes to logistics around Arizona high school sports these days, most recently in soccer.
The boys and girls state tournaments begin Tuesday (boys) and Wednesday (girls), respectively, and, at first glance, the quizzical look returned.
In Division I girls, for example, No. 5 Chaparral plays at a neutral site - in this case at No. 4 Xavier - while No. 6 Basha gets a home match vs. No. 11 Highland.
This happened last year (more than one instance) and the year before.
It sounds inconsistent and a real bummer for a school like Chaparral to be a higher seed than Basha but not enjoy a home match, so we'll start with a quick historical flashback.
Three years ago, nearly all early tournament matches were held at either Red Mountain Park in Mesa or Reach 11 complex in Phoenix, but the Arizona Interscholastic Association and its member schools were getting the short end of revenue because they weren't allowed to charge admission. That's a problem when you have expenses of fields and staffing to pay for, let alone trying to break even financially on the tournament (let alone turn a profit).
Neither the AIA nor its soccer advisory committee knew this until the tournament began, so they swallowed hard, got through the state tournaments and changed up the formats.
These days, the top four seeds in each division are guaranteed a home match in the first round. Nos. 5 through 8 are TBD which means they could host a first round match or have to play at a neutral site which is closer to their school than, Nos. 10 through 16.
Each division's schedule is aligned differently based on the seedings and geography of its participating schools, so let's stick with Div. I as a guide:
On the boys side, the top six seeds have home matches on Tuesday because the top four are automatic, No. 5 Sandra Day O'Connor plays No. 12 Trevor Browne and No. 6 Alhambra plays No. 11 Camelback. Those competing schools are close enough geographically that it made sense to have O'Connor and Alhambra host those matches so only one school has to travel.
Meanwhile, No. 7 Ironwood will play No. 10 Mountain Pointe at Sandra Day O'Connor because it allows a school to host two matches in a day. It means Ironwood has to travel despite being the higher seed, but it's a shorter distance and allows the possibility a few more Mountain Pointe fans will show up by not having to commute as far (and any fans who can watch two matches for an $8 entry fee instead of one). The same theory applied to No. 8 Tolleson vs. No. 9 Desert Vista playing at Alhambra H.S.
This, according to AIA tournament coordinator David Hines, helps increase attendance (revenue) and reduce expenses by not having every top-8 school host an early-round match, which has historically proven difficult on the AIA financially as it conducts soccer tournaments.
On the girls side, Chaparral as a No. 5 seed will play its match against No. 12 Millennium at Xavier (the Gators host as a No. 4 seed) for similar reasons as the Ironwood and Tolleson boys. The hiccup here was a vast majority of teams in this tournament are East Valley schools (Hamilton, Basha, Corona del Sol, Highland, etc..). Since Chaparral was playing against Millennium (a Goodyear school), Hines said it made geographic sense to have those schools meet a bit closer in the middle (Xavier) and made little sense in having a matchup of two Southeast Valley schools (Basha vs. Highland or Corona del Sol vs. Hamilton) played in Scottsdale.
Since Basha was next in the pecking order as a No. 6 seed, and was closer in proximity to Hamilton, Highland and Corona del Sol, the Bears will host and be part of a doubleheader at the school.
It does, on several levels, make sense both logistically and financially. But even though No. 9 Gilbert girls were automatically going to travel elsewhere, a better option for them and No. 8 Desert Mountain would have been to play at Chaparral H.S. That way, Chaparral gets a home match as a No. 5 seed, Desert Mountain is closer being the higher seed and Gilbert would shave a few miles off its commute rather than going up to Notre Dame H.S.
But that would have left two schools (Xavier and Notre Dame as the No. 3 seed in Div. II) with only one match on the day - more expensive. Still, Xavier would have drawn a decent crowd and it might have been worth it so a No. 5 seed gets a home match along with the No. 6 seed (Basha).
The system isn't without its hiccups - No. 10 Cactus Shadows will face No. 7 Tempe in a boys match at Chandler H.S. when they could have played at Tempe H.S. and saved Cactus Shadows another 10 miles on a bus - but it's hard to argue with the need to increase attendance and reduce expenses in hosting these tournaments, especially because (for whatever reasons) soccer doesn't draw a lot of attendance until the final two rounds of the tournaments.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.