Now that schools are allowed to appeal up and down a division in high school sports in Arizona, even when we get answers it often leads to more questions.

What was the appeal process? How does it work? Why did a school win? Why did another school lose?

Football will be the sport of choice used here, but, first, a disclaimer: Whether all this exact same criteria and methodology down to a “T” happens with the other sports’ committees remains to be seen. That’s up to each sport’s committee. The language in the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) bylaw is loose and vague, somewhat intentionally to offer the committees the leeway to decide appeals how they see fit. So while a guideline was drawn about criteria schools and the committees should look for, there’s purposefully nothing set in stone.

Remember, these are sports advisory committees consisting of coaches and athletic directors within Arizona Interscholastic Association member schools, not the AIA governing body or executive board.

Remember, too, appeals up and down were based on where projected enrollment for the 2013-2015 scheduling block originally placed the school.

After numerous conversations with a few committee members, here’s unofficially and loosely what we’ve gleaned about the process:

• The football sports advisory committee consists of the committee chair (Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke) and nine other members: Don Conrad (Thatcher), Jim Fairfield (Fountain Hills), Nemer Hassey (Cienega), Lee Haws (Ft. Thomas), Jerry Link (Florence), Mike Silvertson (Centennial A.D.), Tim Slade (Mogollon), Nathan Slater (Saguaro) and Rhett Stalworth (Yuma Catholic).

As committee chair, Zupke doesn’t vote, except as needed in the case of a tie-breaker, which in these cases wasn’t necessary.

• The committee members were given a list of schools who submitted appeals, along with whatever explanations and details each school chose to submit (or not) about why they sought to move down.

Given the list of schools (approximately 45 schools appealed to move up or down in football), it was up to the appealing school to make its case and provide numbers, data, facts and figures. A couple schools simply submitted three sentences or a paragraphing saying they’d like to be moved down for “competitive” or “safety” reasons, but without provided evidence, numbers, stats, etc... Appeals without a “why” explanation behind them didn’t work.

• The committee’s overall philosophy behind its decision making was about better competition, not about whether a school could/would win a state title in a given division.

That means that if the committee felt a school could “reasonably” (and it’s only an eyeball test) finish above .500 or make the playoffs in a lower division, it’s appeal likely didn’t pass (which partially explains why EV schools such as Horizon was denied an appeal from Div. I down to Div. II and Arcadia was denied going from Div. II to Div. III).

The basic premise being the committee didn’t want teams moving down that, in their estimation given what they know about those teams and future scheduling, would have at least a 50-50 chance of taking a playoff spot away from a school already in that division.

Again, it’s not about schools having a better chance to make a deep playoff run or win a state title. It’s about making sure teams on the bottom don’t get hammered on a weekly basis because of a variety of factors such as size, socio-economics, etc... relative to their competition (Combs, Coronado, McClintock, Phoenix Metro schools all won appeals for these reasons).

• A few schools cited “safety” reasons toward their kids in terms of competition, size of opponents and rosters (it was a major factor in North Pointe Prep cancelling football before the current two-year block because of the computer scheduling teams two or three divisions higher than NPP).

This time, however, those appeals were mostly denied under the premise that upcoming computer scheduling changes for 2013-2015 block will alleviate those issues. Schools figure to play between 5-7 computer-scheduled games within their own division and section (a specific number hasn’t been finalized) and the rest will be so-called “freedom” games determined by schools themselves.

• Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista are expected to stay in Division I across the board in every sport. Horizon Honors, on the other hand, has fluctuated between Division III (baseball, basketball, golf, softball, soccer) and Division IV (cross country, track, girls volleyball) depending on the sport.

• Last month, the executive board voted down a proposal that would require private or parochial schools to automatically play up a division in any given sport (not just football).

Instead, to avoid future blanket rules from cropping up, parochial schools met with a “handshake” agreement to “self-police” in terms of schools and sports moving up or down divisions. Many private schools were planning on moving up divisions anyway (Brophy and Salpointe Catholic are already Div. I in most, or all, sports; Notre Dame from Div. IV to II and St. Mary’s from Div. IV to Div. II; Seton Catholic girls basketball and volleyball; Gilbert Christian playing Div. I in boys basketball). NW Christian and Yuma Catholic are elite football programs in Div. V and among those that didn’t appeal up to IV but that’s not to say every private schools was required to move, and they could move up for the following two-year block.

• Schools which were denied in its appeals by the advisory committee can submit its appeal case to the AIA Executive Board by Nov. 16, with the appeals decided during the Nov. 19 board meeting. Final division placements will be released on Nov. 20.


Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at or (480) 898-6576.

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