Pedersen On Sports

Brian J. Pedersen is bringing the Tucson Weekly perspective to sports

By the end of this column—assuming you read the whole thing—you'll either be thinking to yourself, "What have I done to deserve this?" or "This was just what the Tucson Weekly needed to cement itself as the top media source in the region."

I get paid either way, so it's no bother to me what the verdict is.

But be warned: This space will be reserved for analysis, bluntness, commentary, discussion and exposition on all facets of sports, recreation and entertainment in Southern Arizona, and maybe even Phoenix if I'm feeling particularly saucy.

DISCLAIMER: This means there will be talk not just about the University of Arizona but also of professional and high school sports as well as bowling, gambling (especially poker), board games and Little League. They're all areas that, frankly, deserve some attention but just don't get enough of it from this region's UA-and-nothing-else slant.

The approach will be a mix of promotion, kudos and character evisceration—if necessary, of the throwing-them-under-the-bus variety. Punches won't be pulled for fear of getting kicked out of the press box or having credentials revoked. That ship sailed with my predecessor a long time ago.

I have opinions, and I like to voice them when appropriate—and also when it's not appropriate, as anyone who follows me on Twitter has learned. These viewpoints come from more than 18 years of witnessing the comings and goings of the sporting and pop culture worlds in Tucson, both as a fan and as a reporter for various local publications.

I even picked up a gig coaching youth basketball, which I heard was a prerequisite for Weekly sports coverage.

My legacy lives on from more than a decade writing for the morning daily, where a certain cup is awarded to the top prep athletic program (yup, I came up with that), a certain approach is taken to selecting prep all-stars (me again) and a certain series of stories chronicles odd attractions found around town (guilty as charged).

But this isn't going to be a place for rehashing what's been done before, or what others are still doing. The only things seen here will be truly relevant in the local sports community, the things people really want to know about. I'm not going to chronicle the music playlists from sporting events—you have my word.

So, let's get the ball rolling:

• Tucson needs to distance itself from its annual rodeo as much as possible if we ever want to be considered a truly progressive and trendy (read: well-heeled-tourist-friendly) locale. Sure, it's nice to be home to the world's largest nonmechanized parade, but we also have a world-class golf tournament here at the same time. And with Tucson also becoming the western hub for Major League Soccer's preseason, we're more than just a rodeo town.

Yet we still let the kids out of school for two days to celebrate "Rodeo Days," a practice that dates back to when people actually went to the rodeo. I've always felt that it should be a requirement to attend at least one calf roping or barrel racing event in exchange for the time off. If that doesn't fly, then please change the name to something else, like midwinter break (that's what we called it back in New Jersey; I used that break in 1994 to visit the UA, and the rest is history) or something all-inclusive like Sports Break.

Just not Rodeo Days. That makes us sound like a podunk community, the kind that shuts down not just schools but all of the businesses on Main Street so everyone can participate in the county fair.

• No matter what changes the Arizona Interscholastic Association makes, Southern Arizona teams are going to get the short end of the stick. It's a Phoenix-centric governing body, with only token advisers from outside Maricopa County, and it's never going to give us a fair deal.

How else can you explain the fact the girls' soccer team at Sierra Vista's Buena High went undefeated in the regular season yet found itself uninvited to the Division I state tournament? The Colts had one tie and 11 wins in games that counted toward the power points system the AIA instituted this school year in reaction to complaints that the previous system was flawed. But somehow this proprietary formula that MaxPreps uses managed to make it possible for an unbeaten club to finish 18th (only the top 16 made the playoffs).

The saddest part was that Buena coach Marilyn Piduch knew that not making state was a distinct possibility despite the team's record. Piduch had no say in who her team played this season thanks to the AIA using a computer program to match schools against their closest opponents in hopes of cutting down on travel.

"It's like our schedule is automatically putting us at a disadvantage," said Piduch, noting that her team had to face the "closer" teams on Tucson's southside instead of tougher opponents a few miles farther away like Catalina Foothills, Ironwood Ridge, Mountain View and Sahuaro.

Some believe things will get better for Tucson next year when all of our larger schools move down to Division II or Division III to avoid battling enormous Phoenix schools for playoff spots. I'm reserving judgment on that.

• Weather and attendance aside, it's a safe assumption that FC Tucson's monthlong SoccerFest was a raging success. It gave local soccer lovers a chance to immerse themselves in the game and created an opportunity for new fans to take a gander at a variety of competitions. Overall, it created a fun atmosphere that permeated throughout the city at a time when so many other big-ticket events (the aforementioned rodeo and golf events, plus the gem shows) are already entrenched.

That being said, a few tweaks could keep Tucson's evolution into a pro soccer mecca moving forward.

Most notably, the ticket prices are going to need to come down to keep growing the fan base. Putting on games involving MLS teams, even in the preseason, is pricey— it's ridiculous how much referees have to be paid just for an exhibition—but the lighter the burden placed on fans to subsidize this soccer effort the better.

One thing FC Tucson and the local soccer machine unfortunately won't be able to benefit from is the use of Arizona Stadium for games, such as a much-desired contest involving either the U.S. or Mexican national teams. Most pro soccer outfits view playing on anything but grass with disdain. So the stadium's artificial turf, and its "ghost lettering" set to be in place for the 2013 football season, all but kill any chances of having a big-time contest held there.

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