KINGMAN - When the Kingman High football team kicks off the season Friday at Mesa Skyline, it will also mark the start of a new era for the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
Gone are the days of the 5A, 4A, 3A and 1A/2A conferences, which have been replaced by divisions. Also gone is the idea of being associated in the same conference regardless of sport. Instead, teams will be assigned divisions based on the number or schools participating in that particular sport.
For example, last year KHS competed in 5A Division II in all team sports. This year, all sports will compete in Division I except for football and wrestling. Those two teams will compete in Division II.
"Basically the conferences were determined by an arbitrary line put at the 1,200 enrollment," KHS athletic director Tim Casson said. "All the schools above 1,200 are going to be in either 5A, 4A, or 3A.
"Now basically what they are saying is that we're not going to have conferences in terms of playoffs. We are going to have divisions for playoffs and the number of divisions will fluctuate from sport-to-sport, which it didn't do typically in the past."
According to the AIA's conference placement of Oct. 1, 2010, it put KHS's enrollment at 2,059 students, which was toward the lower end of the 5A conference.
"It's a huge change," Casson said. "It's a big change. It's just very different then what we've done as far as I know in the history of the AIA."
The changes, according to Chuck Schmidt, chief operating officer for the AIA, are the culmination of years of discussions to address numerous issues within the AIA. One issue was how to reduce travel costs for the schools, so kids would spend more time in the classroom and less time on the road.
The solution the AIA came up with to reduce the costs of travel was a new computerized schedule. Besides having all the schools being divided into divisions depending upon sport, they are also divided up into sections. For example, KHS football is in Division II, Section III. According to Casson, what the computer will do when it's piecing together a schedule will look first within the section for a team that is a relatively short distance away.
New football foes
In the case of the football team, Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain and Prescott are in the same section. If it can't find a team in the same section, then it will look at other sections within the same division. If no teams are there, then it will start to look at other divisions.
"The computer only does 80 percent of your schedule, leaving you with the ability to play against a team that the computer would not of found for you," Casson said. "If it's a rivalry you've had for 75 years or whatever."
Last year, volleyball coach Traci Rosenbach made the three-hour drive to the Phoenix area for regular season matches seven times. This year, those trips are have been cut to just two. The Lady Bulldogs are making more trips to Flagstaff and Prescott this year, which is more in tune with the schedule she played when she was in high school.
"I'm happy about the changes," Rosenbach said. "I'm happy because it's going to be different. We're always in Phoenix, so it will be a nice change of scenery, new rivals, hopefully the renewing of old rivals."
Besides the reduction of travel costs for the schools, another reason for the change was to reduce the costs to the AIA.
During the 2009-10 school year, the AIA operated 100 state tournaments. Last year, when the AIA realigned the individual sports into divisions, that number dropped to 81. This year, with the team sports being realigned, the AIA will operate 68 state tournaments.
"We cut the number of events by 25 percent," Schmidt said.
With the cuts in the number of state tournaments being put on, the AIA expects to start turning a profit.
In the black
"You can incur some tremendous expenses in running one of these tournaments," Casson said. "But if you're only running two of them instead of five of them or seven of them, you might get it to where your entry fees are covering the cost of running the tournament so you are running in the black."
According to Schmidt, the AIA didn't lose as much money on state tournaments compared to years past and is hoping that this year they will be in the black.
"Last year I think we realized a $125,000 loss," Schmidt said. "In the previous years that was in the range of $400,000 to $700,000," Schmidt said. "But this year we are showing something in the black so we will be able to provide money back to the schools."
While the realignment has reduced travel costs for schools and helped the AIA to operate in the black, some feel it has made it even tougher to qualify for state tournaments.
Guy Hartnett has been coaching golf at KHS for the past 13 years. Last year he had one golfer make the Division II state tournament and another golfer miss qualifying by one score.
"It's become a lot more difficult to get into the state tournaments, which might've been a cost thing with the AIA," Hartnett said.
Although one of the main reasons for the change was to cut travel costs, Hartnett said that last year was probably some of the most traveling that he's done.
"This year we are doing a little bit less traveling because we are not going to have to go to Phoenix as much," Hartnett said. "But we go to Prescott and Flagstaff versus down in the valley, so it's a little bit better."
Going into his second year under the change, Hartnett is still on the fence about it. Rosenbach's concern is the actual schedule.
"It's less travel time, but our schedule is we play every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for the most part," she said. "That's going to be harder playing back-to-back games, but the travel times should be less."