Santa Cruz vs. Round Valley 11/23/19

Eagar Round Valley plays Santa Cruz Valley in the 2A state semifinals Nov. 23 at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert. Round Valley is one of three schools, along with Phoenix Northwest Christian and Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin, that sued the AIA over their conference placements in football.

Three Arizona high schools filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Interscholastic Association, fighting their football placement. But their argument rings hollow.

Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin, Phoenix Northwest Christian and Eagar Round Valley sued the AIA after they were bumped up a classification in football due to a new formula that determines football placement based on the recent power of the program instead of going solely by school enrollment.

The lawsuit, currently being heard in Maricopa County Superior Court, is without merit based on its legal argument. The legal argument is that these schools moving up a division in football threatens the safety of their players.

It’s the legal argument because the real reason these schools are suing would be laughed out of a courtroom.

These schools are spoiled. They are used to winning and dominating their opponents. They are used to competing for, and winning, state championships.

The real reason Benjamin Franklin, Northwest Christian and Round Valley are suing is because they don’t want to play football in a world they can’t dominate. What if they no longer win state titles? What if they lose in the first round of the playoffs?

Those are frightening thoughts for these schools.

I’ve covered teams that cherish their small-school kingdom and the opponents they consistently destroy. In a way, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only wrong if those schools result to something foolish like a lawsuit to prevent themselves from facing tougher competition.

This all started when the AIA changed the way it determines football placements. Instead of simply going by enrollment, which it still does for all other sports, it decided to use a formula that measured program performance for the past three seasons.

I regularly rail against the AIA for the way it runs its organization, but this was a smart idea.

In setting the conference placements for 2020-21, a team’s 2019 performance accounted for 50% of its rating, the 2018 performance was 35%, and 2017 results accounted for 15%.

Benjamin Franklin and Northwest Christian are upset at being moved from 3A to 4A, while Round Valley is fighting its move from 2A to 3A.

School administrators, in this sham of a lawsuit, are arguing that because they have smaller roster numbers or smaller players, it leaves them more vulnerable to injuries.

It’s an absurd argument because any coach will tell you it’s not about roster size or how much your offensive line weighs. It’s about the talent of the players on the roster, in addition to the strength and conditioning of those players.

Casa Grande Union athletic director Randy Robbins, also the defensive coordinator for the football team, is among some coaches and administrators who have expressed public displeasure about the lawsuit.

“As an AD ... I’m pissed off,” he commented in a Facebook post about the lawsuit. “These schools didn’t even give the process (new procedure) a chance. And we (schools) have to pay the extra expense.”

The original post Robbins commented on was made by CG Union coach Jake Barro, who called the court case “comical.” The Cougars play football in 4A and advanced to the state quarterfinals last season.

“We finished the season with 32 players suited up,” he wrote. “Our best OL were under 200 lbs. All our players play 2 positions and we have 14 [two-way] starters ... some of these reasons being given are ridiculous. Hiding under the umbrella of ‘player safety’ is not going to get you anywhere.”

Programs that are dominant should want to play the best. They should relish the challenge. That doesn’t mean a 2A school should be playing in 6A, but the new football placements for Benjamin Franklin, Northwest Christian and Round Valley are appropriate.

A judge’s ruling on the case, which is being conducted telephonically, is not expected until May 18. But the legal challenge, in and of itself, is preventing all schools from putting together football schedules for the upcoming season.

The AIA has also discussed potential “emergency action” in which all member schools would split the cost of the legal fees.

And this is all due to the selfish actions of three schools. It’s not about player safety. It’s about the fear of no longer being the king of the mountain.

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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