Something new

When Steve Martin was a stand-up comedian — admittedly, a long, long time ago — one of his bits was about how he had reached an age where he was resistant to change. He would cringe whenever he heard the phrase, “Hey, let’s try this new thing!” And then the door in his brain would slam shut.

Well, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), after having performed yeoman’s duty in guiding our state’s schools through the awful pandemic, has emerged on the other side not content to be back to normal but instead wanting to try this new thing. 

With the regular season for the state’s big schools having just been completed, we would normally be looking at the state tournaments at the various levels. Instead, we’re being treated (subjected?) to this new open tournament, which brings to mind the old saying that a camel is a horse built by a committee.

For far too long, the AIA has used the horribly flawed Power Points system to determine which teams would advance to the state tournaments in the various sports. The Power Point system is a bad algorithm, the creator of which will spend a considerable chunk of the afterlife in Purgatory for having done so and then passing it off as good math to unsuspecting AIA executives.

It has always been an abomination, but now they’ve expanded it to select teams across the AIA Classification spectrum to compete for an open championship. Teams from the 6A (the biggest schools in the state), as well as some from the 5A and 4A, will vie for the state’s first open title. The inaugural open tournament got off to a completely predictable horrible start.

It has been an odd year for the Flowing Wells girls’ basketball team. The previous two years, they were the toast of the 5A. Two years in a row, they reached the Class 5A State Championship game. Their team leader, Navine Mallon, was named 5A State Player of the Year last season. 

This year, after the AIA did their biannual reclassification, Flowing Wells dropped down to the 4A level, where they would face competition from schools with smaller populations than those in the 5A. It’s fair to say that it didn’t work out like some might have thought it would. Flowing Wells was put in a region that included last year’s 4A state champion, Salpointe, plus, two other teams (Pueblo and Sahuaro) that have been to the 4A state title game in the past four years.

At the end of the regular season, Flowing Wells ended up in a three-way tie for second (or fourth, depending on how you look at it). Still, their Power Points position was relatively strong and they were included in the 32 teams that would make up the open division. 

Just to show you a relatively tiny flaw in the Power Points system, in the final rankings, both Tucson Sahuaro and Flowing Wells had identical 14-4 records. Flowing Wells had a strength-of-schedule rating of 1.61, while Sahuaro’s was 1.19. And yet, somehow, Sahuaro was slotted two spots above Flowing Wells in the rankings, which, as it turns out, would make a huge difference.

Sahuaro’s first-round opponent was Seton Catholic, a tough team, but one from the 4A ranks. Sahuaro lost by 16. Flowing Wells would play Desert Vista, a 6A monster that is one of the best teams in the western United States. I bought the game on the NFHS (National Federation of High Schools) network and, for a time, was watching it as I wrote this.

During the regular season, Flowing Wells had handed out some whuppins against lesser competition, winning games by scores of 70-21, 85-21, 77-8, and 92-7. I don’t know if anyone on the Flowing Wells team was prepared for what would happen. (I know I certainly wasn’t.)

Desert Vista won the opening tip (out-jumping FW’s 6-foot-2 center Sydney Capen) and scored a quick layup. Then DV’s press got a steal and got another layup. Flowing Wells’ inability to get the ball past halfcourt in the allotted 10 seconds led to another turnover, after which Desert Vista hit a three-pointer. With less than a minute gone in the game, Flowing Wells was down 7-0. 

Then it got bad. 

Midway through the first quarter, it was 19-0 before Flowing Wells scored its first bucket. Mallon hit a three right before the end of the first quarter to cut the lead to 29-9. She hit two free throws right before the half to make it 53-19.

I didn’t watch the second half, but I saw that the final score was 91-43. 

However, according to the open format, teams that lose in the first and second rounds get to drop back into their own classification and participate in those state playoffs, which begin this week. So, Flowing Wells and Sahuaro still have a chance to win the 4A state title.

I had spoken with several coaches and players who would be participating in the first round of the open and not one person was looking forward to it. They all said that the AIA could have easily hand-picked the top eight teams in the state and just held an open tournament with those teams.

But, you know, let’s try this new thing…

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