More than a year ago, I was interviewing Chuck Schmidt, associate executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, about his organization's draconian "reorganization" plan.
Schmidt was trying to explain why the plan—which is eliminating decades-old traditional rivalries, consolidating power in an ever-tightening inner circle known as the Executive Council, and drastically slashing participation opportunities for Arizona high school student-athletes—was somehow a good thing. Needless to say, the explanation wasn't going well.
Now, before all you eye-rollers get to rollin' and complaining, "Oh boy, here he goes again, ranting about the AIA," let me explain something.
The late, great Chris Limberis, whose spirit will forever grace this publication and whose journalistic jock I was never even able to contemplate carrying, always told me that the crooks were easy to get; it was the entrenched bureaucrats, who answer to no one, at whom you really have to hammer away. Chris said that the bureaucrat can absorb two or three body blows, lie low for a while, and emerge stronger, more entrenched and even less likely to give a damn about anything after the public's short attention span kicks in.
Anyway, when I asked Schmidt why they were cutting way back on kids' opportunities to compete for a state title, he said that it made those opportunities more special. (That's something a tightwad dad tells a kid when there's only one present under the Christmas tree—that is, if the tightwad dad even bothered to get a tree.)
One of the more puzzling aspects of the plan was the elimination of conferences, some of which had been in existence, in one form or another, since before the Korean War. Schmidt said that too much emphasis had been put on winning conference championships (which gave kids something to strive for, especially those kids and teams who had no realistic shot at winning a state title). More important for Schmidt's group, conferences were no longer needed, because the AIA was adopting a power points system to determine which schools get to participate in the various state tournaments.
The power points system the AIA uses awards a team a certain number of points for each victory, then a smaller number of points for each victory achieved by the team's opponents, and even more points still for victories by the opponents' opponents. It's a dumb system, made almost ludicrous by the fact that the AIA—in a power grab—took regular-season game-scheduling away from the schools and did it all (for the entire state, and quite disastrously) by computer. Under a power point system, a school should have the right to schedule nonconference games, deciding between scheduling a bunch of easy games and getting an almost-guaranteed number of points, or adopting a tough schedule, knowing that a smaller number of points will pile up even with losses to good teams. And a team should have the opportunity to hit the jackpot with a win or two over teams with good records.
To the surprise of no one, this system greatly favors schools in the metro Phoenix area, and hurts schools in Southern Arizona and rural areas.
So, while I was talking to Schmidt, I casually mentioned that the power points formula had a mathematical flaw in it. (It actually has two, but I was talking about the more obvious one—the fact that teams that play extra games get more points.)
Schmidt snapped, "What are you, a rocket scientist?!"
I said, "No, just someone who understands math." The conversation didn't end well.
Over the past year or so, I've told other coaches and athletic directors about the flaw, but most are so exasperated with the AIA that a math error is the least of their concerns. A couple of months ago, a Phoenix-area engineer by the name of John Carrieres informed the AIA that he had discovered a flaw in its power points formula. He was turned away, so he went to newspapers (The Arizona Republic and the East Valley Tribune), and the story caused a big fuss. (The math department at Arizona State University confirmed the flaw.) It turns out that more than a dozen teams from around the state—including the girls' basketball teams from Marana, Marana Mountain View and Elfrida Valley Union—were all denied rightful spots in the state tournament because of the use of the flawed formula.
Before anybody thinks that this is sour grapes, my team finished the regular season first in the state in power points under the flawed system—and still would have been No. 1 under the correct formula.
Here's the punch line to this whole mess: The AIA convened its executive committee and named a Power Ranking Committee. It also is putting out a new power points formula to be used for baseball and softball this spring. However, the AIA and Schmidt refuse to use the words "flaw" "error" or "fix," and will not admit that anything had been wrong.
Schmidt, bristling at the way things went down, said, "I'm going to tell you right now. If the outside public is going to use the press as a stick to engage the AIA staff, that doesn't happen."
I'm pretty sure it just did.