Behind the chuckles, Ed Matlosz is starting to panic.
His Apache Junction softball team currently has 15 games that will count for power points this spring. That's three games below the "standard" 18 games baseball and softball play (not including tournaments).
He's waiting on the school to finalize other opponents to try and fill its softball schedule - San Tan Foothills, Coronado, Gilbert Christian, Coolidge - and get as close to 18 power-point games as possible.
In addition to his team needing games for the experience (the Prospectors are heavy on sophomores and juniors), the recent controversy surrounding power points and questions as to whether teams are helped or hurt in the rankings based on the number of games/matches played isn't helping the anxiety.
Wins and losses aren't necessarily Matlosz's top priority at the moment, but if most Division II schools play 17 or 18 games (or even 19 if a school is playing a game to help another school that's below the standard of 18), and the Prospectors play 15 or 16, it could be trouble by regular season's end.
Matlosz believes a late-inning meltdown against Poston Butte at the end of the regular season was the one-game difference in not making the state tournament last year, so the idea of trying to get a postseason berth potentially two or three games behind most of Div. II can't happen.
"We're looking for 18, we want the games," he said. "I'm under that impression that more games means a better chance for wins (and, win or lose, more power points). We'll play whomever."
A possible flaw in the the power point system's formula left many believing that more games are an advantage, and those who play fewer are hurt. That means there's a chance the large disparity of games scheduled by schools for the spring sports - which begin en masse during the last week of February - could be a moot point.
The AIA will present a ratified version of the current power points system to the Executive Board during its Feb. 21 meeting. If it so chooses, the board can immediately vote and decide whether to retain the current system or the modified one that will be presented.
If the current formula is retained, and coaches and athletic directors believe the number of games played will have an impact similar to the way soccer, and especially basketball was affected in the winter, would spring sports start racing to schedule as many games as possible?
In soccer, for example, Phoenix Maryvale's boys earned the No. 2 seed with a 10-4 record, ahead of schools such as Gilbert (12-0), Brophy (11-1) and Hamilton (10-2). In badminton, Phoenix Shadow Mountain (7-8) and Phoenix Central (12-2) took the final two spots in the team state tournament, while Prescott (11-1) didn't make the top 16.
"I don't picture a lot of coaches trying to manipulate the system just to pick up a few points," said Desert Mountain softball coach Rick Sharp, a member of the AIA advisory committee. "Let's face it: If you're doing it to make the 24 (teams that qualify for the state tournament in baseball and softabll), give me a break. I wouldn't be losing a lot of sleep if I didn't make the tournament because I went from 23 to 25."
If a team doesn't play in any tournaments, it can add two power-point games to its schedule, or three games in boys volleyball (thus, baseball and softball teams could play a maximum of 20 PP games, boys volleyball could play a max of 19 matches).
"Wow," said Hamilton baseball coach Mike Woods on the idea of backing out of tournaments for an extra power-point game. "Not at a big school level, where you get 4-5-6 games and it'd hurt the kids' experience in the end. It'd be a real selfish move to trade one or two games in for five games for the (power points) advantage so-to-speak. That'd be kind of crazy."
As of Thursday, a few Yuma, Tucson and Phoenix Metro schools were below the 18-game standard for baseball and softball. Yuma only had 15 games on its PP schedule in Division II, while Nogales and Gila Ridge had 19 games.
In addition to A.J., Mountain Pointe has 16 softball games, and Pride coach Mel Wendell said she was pretty fuzzy about the power point controversy, but needs to fill the schedule. Wendell and athletic director Ian Moses were going to talk early next week about filling out the schedule to reach 18 games.
"There's been a lot of strange things happening," she said.
Coronado and San Tan Foothills also have 16 (Division III) and Gilbert Christian (Div. IV) has only 14 listed. Peoria and Raymond Kellis volleyball have 15 PP matches, while McClintock and Marcos de Niza have 19 each.
In boys and girls tennis, Horizon and Arcadia have 12 matches (two below the standard of 14), while San Luis and Flagstaff only have 11.
The lower divisions show a greater disparity in games played between its schools, especially in Div. III and IV baseball, softball and tennis. The power rankings page on the AIA website shows schools within a division have a differentiation of four, five or even six games. Geography and travel issues between those out-of-Valley schools are two significant factors in those schedules.
Gilbert Christian (Div. IV) believes playing more games is currently an advantage in the current power point system, and its spring sports are looking to maximize the number of games played. The Knights currently have 20 power point games on its baseball schedule, and 14 for softball.
Its location in the East Valley makes that prospect significantly easier than most Division III and IV schools in Arizona.
"Administrators at rural schools, rightly so, do not want to keep pulling their kids out of school early to make the long trips, so they schedule the minimum number of games," Gilbert Christian Superintendent Jim Desmarchais said in an email. "...We should not have an advantage with power points due to where we are located and our ability to have more games."
AIA Director of Business Media Brian Bolitho said that spring sports schedules aren't finalized, and that games which won't count in power points will be sorted out "in the near future."
Games can also be added during the season if it can be shown to help at least one of the schools that's below the standard. Mesa, for example, added an extra boys basketball game to its power point schedule. The Jackrabbits tried to earn more power points with another game it won, and Nogales had a chance to earn more points by reaching the 18-game standard.
But the concept of adding games for the sole purpose of trying to add power points wouldn't fly in some baseball circles.
"I guess it's within the rules, but if they did it would be the most unethical thing in history," Woods said.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.