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.

Just nine months removed from an idiotic decision that put high school athletes in danger, the Arizona Interscholastic Association moved to err on the side of caution. The AIA didn’t get religion; the organization was shamed into it.

Due to dangerous inclement weather up north with predicted heavy snow and winds, the AIA on Tuesday announced it was postponing the Class 2A football state championship game.

No. 1 Round Valley (10-2), from the small town of Eagar in the northeastern part of the state, would have been at risk if it had to travel to the Phoenix metro area Saturday. There was no such issue for its opponent, No. 3 Phoenix Christian (12-1).

The game was rescheduled for Friday, Dec. 6, although as of Friday afternoon, the AIA had not announced a venue. It also had not announced an official kickoff time, but it anticipates a 7 p.m. start.

“We really appreciate the willingness of Phoenix Christian to allow Round Valley the opportunity to travel without putting everyone associated with the program at risk as the road conditions become unpredictable,” AIA executive director David Hines said in a statement. “The championship game is important, but we want both schools to have the opportunity for all the players, fans and family to properly celebrate their final game of the year.”

Of course, this is the right move. It’s obvious the safety of athletes, coaches and family members driving to the game from the Eagar area is more important than meeting a preordained date and time for the title game.

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t bust out in congratulatory praise for the AIA. I’m skeptical as to why it had such a quick change of heart.

Back in February, the organization took a very different tone when addressing dangerous weather conditions in the Prescott area during the state basketball championships.

More than a dozen 1A and 2A schools had games scheduled to be played at Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley on the weekend of Feb. 22-23. The winter weather and road conditions were so bad, the Arizona Department of Transportation told people to stay off the roads.

Meanwhile, the AIA told these schools and athletes if they didn’t show up for the games, they would automatically forfeit — therefore ending their season and denying them an opportunity to compete for a state championship.

It was a disgraceful move by the AIA. Buses were stalled in the snow, and people were trapped in area hotels because it wasn’t safe to go anywhere.

It could have been so much worse. Buses carrying students, in addition to cars carrying family members, could have crashed. People could have died.

All because the AIA was too selfish and inflexible to make alternate arrangements.

Ultimately, the AIA was backed into a corner because of the logistical nightmare that ensued.

“At this point, while 13 schools are in the Prescott area, it is unsafe for them to travel to the arena,” an AIA press release stated Feb. 22. “We have advised the schools to stay in and avoid the roads until it is safe to return home.”

But only minor modifications were made, as all 1A and 2A games remained in Prescott Valley that weekend, with the exception of one boys 2A semifinal — Thatcher vs. Scottsdale Christian was moved to Greenway High School in north Phoenix.

The February Fiasco was unsightly, and the AIA was roundly criticized.

Why the change of heart now? Public scrutiny and pressure from the way it badly mishandled the state basketball tournaments played a role. But it was also easier for the AIA to postpone the 2A football championship because it involved just one game and two teams.

Would it have done the same thing if multiple teams were involved in multiple games in the same area? Probably not. I’d like to think the AIA learned a lesson in February, but its history of dysfunction and bad leadership leaves me unconvinced.

Here’s what Hines and the AIA need to understand: The safety of players, coaches and others is the ultimate priority, whether that involves one game or many. The logistics are more complex when it involves many teams, but that’s no excuse for forcing people into danger just to stay on schedule and to play at a particular venue.

I’m glad everyone in Eagar and the surrounding area who were going to travel to the 2A football title game this week were not put at risk. In the future, postponing state playoff games due to hazardous weather must be the rule, not the exception.

The February Fiasco can never be allowed to happen again.


Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at