East Valley high school football coaches and administrators have mixed feelings about the idea of settling who’s really No. 1 in Arizona and generally favor the new eight-team, super division playoff system that goes into effect next season.
The Open Division will include the eight top-ranked schools regardless of classification size as determined by a formula created by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the governing body of high school sports in the state, that includes computer ranking coupled with strength of schedule and margin of victory. The latter category is capped at 14 points so that teams do not run up scores in an attempt to improve their position.
“The biggest thing is it’s trying to build up the sport of football,” said Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Director David Hines. “Football has taken a hit due to concussion concerns, which is rightfully so. But if we have the opportunity to play our best teams in an eight-team tournament, we will have competitive games each week.”
The move by the AIA comes after consecutive seasons in which the state championships in 4A, 5A and 6A featured the same teams. Additionally, Saguaro won its sixth straight championship and Chandler its third, while Centennial repeated in 5A and won its fourth title overall in five years. The AIA believes that an Open Division will create more competition throughout the regular and post seasons.
Here's what several East Valley coaches and administrators thought about the new Open Division.
Former Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan
“I think it will be better for Arizona and the fan base,” Vaughan said. “I think the regular season will be more meaningful and more fun to watch. You’ve got so many schools there that are high profile and good teams. When I was at Mountain Pointe, we wanted to play a lot of those teams. If I was there I would like to have that opportunity.”
Tempe Union High School District Athletic Director Bruce Kipper
“They obviously recognize there are some very competitive programs in the state,” Kipper said. “Then there’s programs who may not be as competitive and they want to be fair to those schools. They want to have competitive football but provide equal opportunity to all schools to have success.”
Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds
“I think for it to work for any team and program, you have to win,” Hinds said. “If teams go out and have successful seasons and they fall into that top eight that is a good thing. That’s our goal every year.”
Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock
“You look at our schedule and it was a grind every week,” Wellbrock said. “Then you look at other schools and they only played some kids for two quarters. There’s always some type of flaw but I think it makes it exciting and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
Saguaro coach Jason Mohns
“I don’t think it adds any pressure to us,” Mohns said. “Being a 4A school with a smaller enrollment, it will be a goal to get there. Realistically, the 6A schools have a little more pressure to get there because they are the top dogs.”
Perry coach Preston Jones
“It won’t change anything that Perry High School does,” Jones said. “We are still hopefully going to be up there with the best. We welcome the competition. It will be a challenge but we play the best teams every year.”
Highland coach Brock Farrel
“All I know is we will be aiming for the Open playoffs now,” Farrel said. “I would rather be in the Open championships with the possibility of winning it, than not be in it at all.”
Mesquite coach Scott Hare
“There’s nothing wrong with striving for that conference title and not being in the Open Division,” Hare said. “If I have a team that has the opportunity to be in the top eight, I’ll do everything in my power to get them there. But if not, I’ll still do everything in my power to get them to a conference championship.”
Higley athletic director Aaron Dille
“I can't speak for all schools, but I think that if a kid is still playing in a championship game, and it's a beautiful Saturday, and there's a beautiful golden trophy waiting for the winner, it's going to be special, no matter what trophy that is,” Dille said.
Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock
“I think its genius, I think it’s something that is outside of the box as I can recall,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “It gives teams a true hope.”
Mesa coach Chad DeGrenier
“For us, I’m looking at it as an opportunity to get into the playoffs,” DeGrenier said. “Now it might give us a better opportunity. Once you get into that it’s a new season and you never know what can happen so that is exciting for our kids.”
Mountain View coach Mike Fell
“The opportunity to compete in any kind of playoff and win some games there, that's exciting for them,” Fell said. “When it gets down to it, there will be a champion in that top eight, but there will be champions at all the different divisions too, so that's still an honor.”
Dobson coach Pete Wahlheim
“The 6A teams will have to go through the meat grinder for the first 10 weeks and that takes a lot out of you,” Wahlheim said. “I understand what they’re going to do, and in theory it sounds good. But I don’t think you will truly find the best team if you have other teams play in their regular conference and then come up at the end of the year.”
Basha coach Chris McDonald
“Thankfully, we have the opportunity to where we are playing a lot of these teams that are in the conversation for the Open championship,” McDonald said. “But there are teams that don’t have that chance, especially when strength of schedule comes into play. If you win 5A or 6A but you weren’t apart of the Open, it kind of loses the luster in a way.”
Chandler Athletic Director Jim Culver
“Our philosophy for the past 5 years is that we want to play the best teams in the country and we are always looking to better ourselves and compete at the highest level,” Culver said. “So we are looking forward to this opportunity to compete in the Open Division Playoff.”