AIA photo

The football coaches evidently can’t wait until August for their first showdown of the year.

An exploratory committee formed by the Arizona Football Coaches Association used tax forms to look at the finances of the Arizona Interscholastic Association for the fiscal years of 2007-2010.

After compiling the data, the AzFCA came to disconcerting conclusions when comparing the AIA’s numbers to other states.

A 10-page synopsis was sent out to various recipients, and it quickly spread into the hands of countless coaches and administrators. Here are a few of the most serious complaints, based on numbers from 2009-10:

• Total revenue and expenses (approximately $9.2 million apiece) were both more than $4 million higher than similarly-sized state associations.

• The travel expenses of $635,823 were nearly $300,000 more than any other state in the nation.

• The total employee salaries of $2,113,569 were seventh-most despite the AIA only serving the 34th-most schools in the country.

• The membership dues of $4,902,414 were second nationally and more than four times that of a similar state association.

Without further clarification, it’s fair to ascertain from this data that the AIA is running a super-sized outfit at the expense of membership schools.

But that’s not the whole story.

AIA Chief Operating Officer Chuck Schmidt said no one from the AzFCA ever contacted him with questions. If they had, there seem to be some fairly easy explanations.

Here’s the main issue: In Arizona, there is no separate association for officials. All of the expenses paid from the schools to various referees go through the AIA. The AIA acts as a middleman, which means both the money coming in (revenue) and going out (expenses) must be documented, even though the AIA doesn’t keep any of it. Therefore, it has significantly ballooned the salary, revenue, expenses and travel cost numbers on the 990 tax form.

For example, of the $701,033 combined expenses for travel and meetings in 2009-10, 78 percent was distributed to referees for regular season mileage and department travel expenses, according to the AIA.

The AIA said only $148,841.03 of the total travel and meeting expenses were spent by the 23 members of the actual staff, which falls in the same range as the majority of other state’s associations.

So, no, Schmidt and Executive Director Harold Slemmer are not flying to Maui on the company dime.

“Since I became the Chief Operating Officer in 2006, I was given a mandate, and that mandate by the board at the time and the new auditing firm was to be in compliance with the new 990 that was coming in ‘08,” Schmidt said. “That’s why we brought in Denise (Doser) as our director of accounting, and we’ve enhanced our bookkeeping capabilities through technology. Bringing Brian (Bolitho) on board, he has a (Masters of Business Administration). With those two folks and myself, we’ve really focused on being in compliance and being transparent.

“Unfortunately, some people want to throw stones, and use stones that maybe aren’t real. But I truly think we’ve really worked hard since 2006.”

The salary concerns also seem to be much ado about nothing. The evaluation report notes that the AIA is seventh nationally in employee compensation with more than $2.1 million paid to its staff, which would be out of whack with the size of the state. However, more than $1 million of that goes to various tournament workers, not the AIA full- and part-timer staff. The association currently has 19 full-time employees, and the $1.25 million spent on those workers would rank 22nd among state associations, according to the AIA.

The membership fees are also much lower than the report indicated, according to the AIA, with $543,480 coming from dues and $748,941 from participation fees for a total of about $1.29 million.

Schmidt said the current membership dues are lower than they were back in 2006-07, and several East Valley athletic directors (large- and small-enrollment schools) said there has been no significant fees increase in the past three years.

The Tribune sent the AzFCA board members the AIA’s rebuttal on Wednesday.

“We stand by the report,” AzFCA executive director Lee Brush said. “We wanted to give it to our administrators, making them aware of some concerns that are on the 990, and have them look into it. That’s where we are at this point.”

When the original numbers were culled, the AzFCA had a right to be alarmed. The travel and operating expenses did not seem to jive with other similarly-sized associations, and it was fair to ask whether the AIA was spending too much and charging the member schools more than necessary.

But the coaches should have brought up the issue to the AIA before sending out the report because these answers may have changed their tune.

Now the rift between these two sides seems to be growing even larger.

The AzFCA wasn’t happy with the way a midseason All-Star game participation issue was handled in January, and the football coaches have long been frustrated by a lack of representation when certain rules are changed.

Now the AIA is annoyed by the lack of communication before distributing this report.

“I come from a time and a place where if you’ve got a question, you just go right to the person,” Schmidt said. “You don’t go around their backs. And you better make sure your information’s accurate, because if it’s not, there could be ramifications there.”

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