As an athlete, there are few feelings worse than getting blown out in a game or a race.
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I played water polo at the NCAA Division III level, and since there are few men’s water polo teams in the NCAA, I played against Division I teams like UCLA and USC on multiple occasions. We lost by more than 10 goals every time, the result decided before halftime.
I cannot recall a single time in high school that a team I was on lost a game by more than 10 goals. Covering Verde Valley sports for nearly a year now, I have paid witness to blowouts on a handful of occasions.
Heading into the 2016-17 academic year, the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section, the relative equivalent to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, made a big decision.
It voted to place schools and their teams into playoff divisions based on competitive equity, rather than simply which league they were in. To be clear, a league is a group of five or six teams, whereas a playoff division contains multiple leagues.
My high school is in the Baseline League; every school’s baseball team, for example, played in Division 2, no matter how good or bad it was.
Competitive equity assigns a point total to every team, based on regular season record, strength of schedule and playoff performance from the prior two years.
Through that, teams are slotted into their according playoff division, which also varies between sport. Now, three schools can play in the same league in any given sport, but at the same time be a part of three different playoff divisions. For example, my high school’s strong football team is in Division 2, but its weaker boys water polo team is in Division 5.
My high school team lost to the same one league rival every year. That same rival won two straight CIF titles, rightfully earning a move up in division, from 5 to 4, and after I graduated, to 3 and eventually 2.
Unfortunately for the rest of the Baseline League, everyone was dragged up with that rival. So despite claiming a second-place league finish, save divine intervention, it meant first-round elimination.
While in a place like Southern California where there are many more schools all located much closer together, the point of playing sports is to compete and to win. And yes, there is the possibility that a team that finishes in the top three in its league may not earn a playoff berth based on the aforementioned competitive equity coefficient. But those chances are slim.
The AIA, on the other hand, groups teams into conferences based almost entirely on enrollment. Logically it makes sense —teams with similar student body sizes should be similar in competitiveness.
But in reality, it’s just not the case.
Sedona Red Rock High School and Camp Verde High School are in Conference 2A, and reported 393 and 497 students, respectively, at the AIA realignment meeting on Oct. 11. Phoenix Christian Preparatory School reported significantly less, 298.
Looking at the numbers, one would think Camp Verde or Red Rock’s football team should beat that team, or at least be competitive. Red Rock and Phoenix Christian played on Sept. 29, the final score was 61-7 in favor of the Cougars.
Phoenix Christian plays Bisbee High School, with a reported number of 322 students, in the first round of this year’s football playoffs tonight. The Cougars already beat Bisbee 62-0 the second week of the season.
Bisbee tied for second in its region, rightfully earning a playoff berth. Kingman Academy High School has 492 students and is the winner of the Central Region, to which Red Rock and Camp Verde belong. It plays against No. 1 seed Round Valley High School, which has 394 students.
Bisbee does not deserve to, save divine intervention, be blown out for the second straight year in its first playoff game. Kingman Academy does not deserve to face off with the top overall seed after winning its region.
By the numbers, the schools slated to battle one another on the gridiron have equitable student bodies, but I’m willing to bet the final score of those games will not look so even.
Sooner or later the AIA needs to place teams in playoff divisions, across all sports, based on competitiveness and not enrollment. It will make for less ugly scores, more upsets and more excitement, which is what sports are all about.