Is it time for Southern Arizona to ditch the Arizona Interscholastic Association?

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Is it time for Southern Arizona to ditch the Arizona Interscholastic Association?

Quitting is something I wouldn't normally advocate, and isn't a common practice for me. It's why I watched Desperate Housewives through every murder, affair and cul-de-sac plane crash in its eight-year run.

No matter how cheesy and ridiculous it got, I stuck with it out of loyalty and the hope that it would eventually get back to how it was at the beginning (Spoiler alert: It didn't).

But after nearly 20 years of watching local high school athletes, coaches and teams get repeatedly shafted, ignored and for all intents and purposes treated like second-class citizens, I think it's time that Tucson quit the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

I'm not certain how such a thing would be done, or what Southern Arizona schools would do afterward. Maybe a Baja Arizona Interscholastic Association? Not really sure. At this point, I'm more concerned with Tucson getting out of this emotionally abusive relationship.

Since covering my first football playoff game in 1995—followed by dozens of long drives to Phoenix to cover state competitions held at "neutral" sites—I've seen enough to know that the AIA will never be an organization that cares about the good of any and all schools. It's a Maricopa County-based entity, with most of its leadership coming from Phoenix-area schools, and although the majority of the state's population is there, I'm putting the allegiance balance at roughly 85/15 in favor of schools in the Phoenix area.

Complaining about this lack of respect hasn't done much over the years, and it's not going to do anything now. Instead, it's time to move on.

Some recent examples of AIA decisions solidify this opinion.

State wrestling competitions were scheduled to begin Feb. 8 with sectional play, which would advance wrestlers to the state tournament on Feb. 14-15 at the venue with the greatest name in branding history, the Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.

That's what the plan was supposed to be, until the AIA announced the day before sectionals that it was postponing action because of a reported skin infection among high school wrestlers. From five schools. All in Phoenix.

There are 195 high schools in Arizona with wrestling teams.

Apparently, a handful of wrestlers at a Phoenix-only invitational in late January were exposed to a form of herpes (insert crass wrestling joke here) that led to skin lesions. Yet it took two weeks for anything to be done about it.

And do you remember the great deluge of last November? The Noah-like rain that was set to turn Arizona into the lost city of Atlantis? At least that's how the AIA described it when the association decided on a Thursday to postpone all state football playoff games for that Thursday and Friday.

The blanket statement of "player safety" was used to explain why games scheduled for grass fields couldn't be moved to turf fields, but instead were rescheduled for the following Monday. Yet player safety didn't matter when this meant that teams like Salpointe Catholic would play their semifinal games on a Monday and then turn around and play for a championship three days later.

(A side note: my 11-year-old daughter ran in TUSD's middle school cross-country meet during that same maelstrom, marking the first time in recorded history that TUSD was upstaged in the bad-decision-making department.)

I'm not saying that trying to avoid spreading a skin disease is wrong, not at all. But did it really warrant completely messing up the entire state competition—canceling sectionals for the smaller schools and pushing everything back a week for Division I and II, thus impacting all 195 teams—for a few kids at five schools?

I'll guarantee that had the wrestlers been from Tucson, or anywhere else other than Phoenix, all the action would have gone on as scheduled. And those who were infected would be thanked for their service, maybe given a participation ribbon.

But postpone something for the "outsiders?" Pfftt! What do you think this is, the All-Schools-Are-Considered-Equal Interscholastic Association?

The lack of consistency and consideration for all teams extends beyond just weather and skin-related situations. There's also the longstanding practice of shafting most of the rest of the state when it comes to the sites for postseason competition.

While the wrestling tournaments are in Prescott Valley—likely because that's the only place that wants to risk the venue smelling like, well, sweaty high school boys a week after it's over—the only events that seems to consistently be placed outside of Phoenix are the basketball tournaments that include a lot of northern Arizona schools. Those games have traditionally been played at Northern Arizona University, but this year are going to be in Prescott.

Otherwise, you're looking at baseball, basketball, football, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, track and volleyball venues in Maricopa County.

Yes, I know that Phoenix is a nice, central location for state play, and it's not surprising that most stuff would be held in the area that has most of the state's high schools. But what about rotating locales from time to time, throwing the outliers a bone every now and then?

When I first started covering preps in the mid-1990s, that's how it was: Each year a different region in a conference was responsible for hosting certain state competitions. And while that didn't necessarily even things out, since six of the seven conferences in 5A were based in Phoenix, at least it meant that once every seven years the Tucson-area league could host some stuff.

Not anymore. Now, it's pretty much all in Phoenix, with a few exceptions. And those exceptions will likely go away soon if Phoenix-area schools continue to have the AIA's ear.

Case in point: The Randolph golf complex hosted the 4A (which became Division II) state play for a few consecutive years, but after Phoenix coaches bitched and moaned about the strain of having to drive so far to compete in the two-day event, those tournaments are now held in Phoenix. Where I'm sure they'll stay.

Tucson schools complain about travel to the AIA, too. And you know what the response is? Come up the night before, get some hotel rooms and contribute to the local economy.

That's why the girls soccer teams at Catalina Foothills and Sahuaro, which are separated by fewer than 10 miles, traveled to Paradise Valley last Thursday to face each other in the Division II semifinals. Then, two days later, Foothills was in Gilbert for the title game.

A few years ago, Amphitheater and Santa Rita both blitzed through the 4A-II state basketball tournament and met each other for the championship. In Prescott Valley. In front of a crowd of parents, grandparents, siblings and maybe 12 people not directed related to someone on the court.

And in this year's Division II boys hoops tourney, 10 of the 24 teams are from Southern Arizona. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will all be two hours away in Glendale.

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