In our democracy, there are few things more potentially destructive than a bureaucracy without any oversight. One of the biggest problems with such an entity is that the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is considered heresy. To the bureaucrat, everything is broken and in need of fixing. Constantly.
Plus, to hear the bureaucrats tell it, only they can detect and recognize what is broken, and only they know how to fix it.
Exhibit A: The Arizona Interscholastic Association. (Please note: This one appears to be heading toward a happy ending.)
For decades, high school athletics in Arizona ran remarkably smoothly, especially considering the far-flung nature of the state and the built-in structural challenges and wildly differing goals of small rural schools and the mega-schools in the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas. Arizona's high schools were, for many years, divided into five (and then later seven) Classes, based on enrollment. Schools such as Tucson's Salpointe Catholic could choose to "play up" against bigger schools, but "playing down" was not allowed. The Classes were divided into Conferences, based on geography. It was pretty basic stuff, a model to which almost all state high school associations still adhere.
Season game schedules were put together by the schools' athletic directors, who also decided how each conference's representatives to the State Tournament were determined. For the vast majority of the 20th century (and into the 21st), the system worked incredibly well.
For those same decades, the AIA was an umbrella organization with three main purposes: Provide games officials; determine and enforce guidelines for student-athlete (and team) eligibility; and put on the various state tournaments. Again the system worked well—not perfectly, but well—and it did so because almost everybody involved realized that they were in it for the kids.
Then came the New Regime, led by the Bureaucrats From Heck (it's a suburb of Hell). They were going to tell everybody what was best for them and re-work the AIA in their own narrow images, perchance to someday leave behind...(deep breath!) a Legacy.
You know how when you give somebody a little bit of power, they run with it? (Think junior-high Hall Monitor.) These guys set out immediately to assume all power. They took over scheduling with hilariously disastrous results. They cut the number of Classes down from seven to four, claiming that it brought Arizona in line with neighboring states. A quick check on the Net showed that Nevada and New Mexico (with much-smaller populations) had five each, Utah has six, and Colorado has seven. Oops!
Their litany of sins has been well documented and could fill a book. Among them:
Small schools were forced to compete with schools that were five or even 10 times as large. Attendance at games plummeted and football scores of 82-6 and 70-0 became commonplace. Few small schools reached the state tournament and almost none that did managed to advance past the first round.
They did away with conferences, taking away one of the great goals for which kids have competed for generations.
One year, the AIA lost $500,000. Quite tellingly, there was not even the slightest hint of criminal wrongdoing. Everybody just naturally assumed that it involved incompetence of some kind.
Just about every coach and athletic director in the state ended up hating what the AIA was doing and the discontent grew exponentially.
As a lifelong liberal, few things bother me more than misplaced liberal guilt. And the fact is that almost all liberal guilt is misplaced. Every time I hear some whiner riffing on the theme of "Oh, those poor people," all I can think of is Cher slapping Nicolas Cage across the face and yelling, "Snap out of it!"
Last year, in a particularly egregious act, the AIA played the liberal guilt card and tried to group schools by using socio-economic factors. That resulted in schools with 90 kids having to travel 200 miles to play a school with 500 kids just because the larger school has some kids who are on free lunch. Having once been dirt-poor, I can't even begin to tell you how offensive that is.
Then, just as the rebellion was about to spill into the street, something semi-miraculous happened. The Head Guy, who was nearing the end of his reign, pulled out his scepter and tapped the Second-In-Command to be his successor. But then, quite unexpectedly, the Executive Board said, "No so fast!" The Second-In-Command was so offended by the sudden display of Executive Board backbone that he abruptly resigned and went off to work for Gov. Doug Ducey.
The Executive Board got some new blood, as well, and just last week, they voted overwhelmingly to take the AIA into the future by returning to the past. There will be six Classes; Conferences with conference champions; small schools playing small schools and big schools playing big schools.
The Head Guy still has a couple years on his contract, but he is now the lamest of ducks. He can sit around and collect his 200 large while watching his legacy dismantled and sold for scrap.
The AIA is moving forward and most everybody I know is at least cautiously optimistic. It won't ever be perfect, but it's going to be a whole lot better than it has been for the past several years.