Coaches favor new super football playoffs - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Coaches favor new super football playoffs

March 14th, 2019 development
Coaches favor new super football playoffs
Sports and Recreation

By Zach Alvira

Sports Editor


Chandler-area high school football coaches like the idea of settling who’s really No. 1 in Arizona and consequently generally favor the new eight-team, super division playoff system that goes into effect this fall.

Although not all do.

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.

The formula is a computer ranking that includes 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.

“It won’t change anything that Perry High School does,” Pumas coach Preston Jones said of the Open Division. “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.”

The Pumas have advanced to the 6A championship game the past two years, falling to district-rival Chandler both times.

Jones acknowledges that he was not in favor of the Open Division, alluding to the 6A conference champion perhaps feeling like its title was diluted because the top 6A teams were in the Open bracket instead.

He added that 4A and 5A teams might feel better about it than those in the top division, especially given the dominance of Saguaro (4A) and Centennial (5A) in recent years.

“They all might think it’s great to get the top teams out of there,” Jones said. “I just think the AIA has its hands tied. We are constantly making rules and changing things because of a few teams in Arizona.”

The AIA Executive Board on Jan. 22 approved the eight-team Open Division playoff for 2019. The concept was pitched during the AIA’s reclassification meeting on Jan. 8 when AIA Executive Director David Hines and other members voted for the playoff to include eight teams rather than 12.

The AIA will continue its weekly rankings in each conference and add an Open Division ranking each week starting the fifth week of the season.

“The biggest thing is it’s trying to build up the sport of football,” said 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 4A championship and Chandler its third in 6A, while Centennial repeated in 5A and won its fourth title overall in five years.

The Open Division is meant to determine which team truly is the best in Arizona while giving other programs a chance to compete for a championship in their respective conference playoffs. But what happens if a team worthy of making the Open Division is left out? That’s a concern of Basha coach Chris McDonald.

“Thankfully, 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.”

McDonald turned around the Basha High program in his first season, leading the Bears to the playoffs after two consecutive three-win seasons. Basha proved its ability to compete in the Premier Region, which includes Chandler and Perry.

The Open Division is a goal for McDonald and his team, but he believes that a model that brings the best teams from 4A and 5A up a conference would suffice instead of perhaps leaving deserving teams out.

“I think it’s what people want to see for better football across the state,” McDonald said. “But in all honesty, this doesn’t take away the argument for who the best is.”

For the past three seasons, Chandler High has claimed its spot atop the 6A conference. With former coach Shaun Aguano leading the way, the Wolves won four state titles in seven years and had an overall record of 88-19. On several occasions, Chandler found itself in the MaxPreps top 25 national rankings.

Aguano stepped down at Chandler to become running backs coach at Arizona State University.

On Tuesday Chandler hired Wolves assistant coach Rick Garretson to succeed Aguano.  

“We will still be looking to continue the culture that has been established on our campus and continue on with the mission of building character in young men,” Chandler athletic director Jim Culver said.

Culver was in favor of the Open Division. He believes that it will provide a more competitive environment for prep football in Arizona. Culver also alluded to the teams that may not make the Open Division, adding that it would allow them to play for a conference title and experience postseason play.   

Overall, he does not believe much will change for the Chandler program. Strength of schedule may not be a major factor considering that the Wolves play in the Premier Region in 6A, arguably among the toughest in the state based on recent rankings of its members.

That, combined with Chandler’s history of scheduling tough non-region opponents, such as Queen Creek High, IMG Academy (Fla.) and Corona Centennial (Calif.), not much will change in terms of how the program operates with the Open Division on the line.

“Our philosophy for the past five 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.”

The AIA believes that an Open Division will create more competition throughout the regular and post seasons.

More competition also brings along a greater level of excitement among fans and players, perhaps boosting attendance weekly in the state’s biggest sport.

“No. 1 playing No. 8 (in Open Division playoff) won’t be like No. 1 playing No. 16 (in past conference playoffs),” Hines said. “If we have the opportunity to play our best teams in an eight-team tournament, every game would be really exciting and fun.”