The scheduling for the 2013-15 two-year block is getting back to its roots, and for East Valley athletic programs, it seems like a welcome return.
With Legislation passed by the AIA Executive Board on Monday, the new sections will be smaller and there will be an increase in “freedom” games. It should contribute to more competitive equity for most high school sports beginning next year.
While enrollment gaps and a focus on geography have led to many mismatches for the past year-plus, this blast-from-the-past scheduling system could help remedy that issue with the return of the human element.
Region chairs will be selected to sort out the freedom games, much like athletic directors used to convene to hammer out the schedules.
The tradeoff for the more competitive schedules may be an increase in travel costs, but that shouldn’t be a huge problem locally. There are plenty of teams within 30 minutes of each other in the East Valley, which gives schools options to find good matchups without breaking the bank.
“I honestly don’t think, for the (Phoenix) metro schools, (travel) will go up at all,” Mesa district athletic director Steve Hogen said. “And if you have to pay a little more in travel, you’ll get a little more in gate (proceeds) because they’re going to be better games. From the Mesa side of things, the travel doesn’t impact us much.”
Rural schools will be affected the most, because scheduling more competitive games could result in longer drives, which means more fuel and an increased need for substitute teachers.
Brian Bolitho, the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s director of business media, said comparisons between football, girls volleyball and basketball from the last two-year block to the currently-scheduled draft of games for 2013-15 will increase schools’ travel an average of 30 percent, although the AIA did not have a ballpark dollar figure.
It was a concession various sports advisory committees were willing to make, AIA Associate Executive Director Chuck Schmidt said.
“All of the committees came forward based on a desire to address the concerns of competition,” Schmidt said. “That, I think, was the primary driving factor when it comes to the proposals that came to the (Executive) Board.”
Coaches would still prefer to schedule their own freedom games, but there is concern that both top-tier teams and bottom-feeders would not be able to find opponents.
The thinking is that a neutral-party region chair will listen to input from the coaches and athletic directors before figuring out the schedules. It was stressed in the AIA Executive Board meeting on Monday that the region chairs should communicate closely with the coaches to know exactly what they prefer.
There are going to be some hard decisions along the way, but that’s the nature of the beast. No matter which way it’s sliced, scheduling will never be an easy process.
“You can’t always get everything you want, and people have to live with that,” Hogen said. “You would talk to those schools and say, ‘Who do you want to play? Give us a list and we’ll do our best to try and get those.’ If you can get two or three that you want to get, that’s pretty good.”
The new format brings questions from an economic perspective, especially considering Proposition 204 — the sales-tax measure which would allot a projected $1 billion of revenue toward education and road construction — is on the November ballot. If the 30 percent travel increase is somewhat accurate, it’s a hefty cost to the schools, and moreso if the proposition does not pass.
But from an athletics angle, the new (old) system seems like a no-brainer.
“(The region chairs) have a pretty good idea of what’s a good matchup and a bad matchup,” Hogen said. “I think the schools are happy.”