After another postseason of lopsided football results, the AIA voted on Friday to change how they classify schools.
The legislative council approved a model that will see schools, from 2A to 6A, placed in conferences based on performances, not enrollment.
Mingus Union head coach Robert Ortiz likes the model overall but is concerned that it favors bigger schools since a smaller school like MUHS can play well enough to move up but doesn’t have the depth that 5A sized schools do.
“I think it’s a great model, I think it makes it more competitive,” Ortiz said. “If injuries start to set in, smaller community schools might suffer a little bit more due to a lack of sheer numbers but other than that, I think the competiveness and the outcome of it are huge for the sport in the state. I think it will make things a little more competitive in terms of the state championship or playoff games. You saw the 4A state championship was a blow out, the 5A state championship was a blow out and if I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure the 6A one was too. So I think it makes those a little more competitive and it makes it a little more meaningful at the end of the day.”
This past season Chandler won the 6A state championship game 65-28, Peoria Centennial the 5A title 60-7 and Scottsdale Saguaro the 4A 42-16.
Under the new model, teams would be put into the top five conferences (8-man 1A football would be separate) based on their average weighted Maxpreps power rating over the previous three seasons. It goes into effect for the 2020 season and realignment will take place every year instead of the current every two years.
In 2018, Mingus Union finished No. 49 in the state in Maxpreps’ rankings, 62nd in 2017 and 63rd in 2016. In 2018 the Marauders finished the season ranked No. 8 in the 4A.
Camp Verde was No. 200 in the state in 2018.
The AIA also recently approved an open division for the top three conferences. Starting in 2019, the top eight teams in the three biggest conferences will compete in the open division state tournament.
The conference tournaments, 4A, 5A and 6A will remain and the open tournament champion will be crowned state champion.
“I think the open division’s a great idea because at the end of the day you have programs like Chandler and Saguaro, who for years have been fighting over top dog,” Ortiz said. “One might have more Division I athletes in one year and now we get to put that theory to a test, on the football field. They weren’t allowed to play each other in the past, so now I think it’s huge for them to compete on the same gridiron.”
Saguaro has won six state championships in a row.
Ortiz said the combination of the open division and the new classification model will help motivate players after 4A teams have been pretty much competing for second place the last few years.
Tucson Salpointe Catholic, which knocked Mingus Union out in the quarterfinals, 62-22, went months without playing a close game last season. Their last close game was a 28-12 win over Tucson Sahuaro in September, but the Lancers beat the Cougars 53-6 in their rematch in the state semifinals, going up 53-0 at the half and benching their starters in the second half.
Then Saguaro beat Salpointe 42-16 in the state championship game.
“If you would have eliminated Salpointe and Saguaro this year, that could have been anyone’s ball game, those top eight teams I think it would have been more competitive,” Ortiz said.
It isn’t clear where Mingus Union would be placed in the new classification yet. An example model the coaches saw had the Marauders move up to 5A.
Schools would only move up or down one conference.
Ortiz said regardless of where they were aligned, they would still want to schedule their Flagstaff and Prescott area rivals.