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Changes coming to how high school football teams will qualify for the Open Division playoffs

The association also announced the details for the new Open Division basketball playoffs and a new proposal for state track meets.

PHOENIX — The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) held a media day Friday morning to go over some changes coming to the Open Division playoffs in football, how the new Open Division playoffs will work for basketball and a new proposal for how the state track meets will be run.

Open Division football changes

The Open Division will not be changing from 8 teams. AIA Executive Director David Hines said that the Association discussed a move to 6 teams, but schools were not in favor of that because it would require a 2-week bye for some teams during the playoffs.

The big change that was announced was that the AIA is adjusting how 4A, 5A, and 6A football teams will qualify for the Open.

Instead of the 8 teams purely being chosen by where they are ranked by a computer, after the 10th game of the season, a multiplier will be used based on each school's classification (6A will get a 10x multiplier, 5A will get 9x, and 4A will get 8x).

Under this format, Hines said it will be more difficult, but not impossible for a 4A team to make the Open. Two 4A schools made the open last year, Cactus, which was the #7 seed and lost to eventual champion Saguaro in the 1st round, and ALA-Queen Creek, which was the #8 seed and lost to Hamilton in the 1st round.

In the new format, Hines said Cactus would have still made the Open, but as a #4 seed instead of #7, because they were undefeated and beat two top-ranked 5A teams (Sunrise Mountain and Desert Edge) by 28+ points.

ALA-Queen Creek would not have made the Open.

Hines said the seeding for the Open will not be determined by the multiplier, that will still be determined by their rating.

Hines said this change came after meeting with 4A schools. The AIA asked the schools if they still wanted to be involved in the Open and the vote came back split.

Basketball Open Division

The 2022-23 school year will see the debut of the Open Division playoffs for both boys' and girls' basketball in the spring.

Hines said the top 8 teams from each of the big school conferences (6A, 5A, and 4A) will be selected along with the next 8 highest-ranked teams regardless of which conference they play in to make a 32-team Open Division bracket.

That tournament will play its first two rounds at the same time as the play-in games for the conference tournaments.

After the Open bracket is whittled down to the Elite Eight, the teams that lost will be re-seeded into their conference brackets.

The championship games for 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A, 6A, and the Open will be held at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in March.

A 35-second shot clock is also coming to high school basketball in Arizona for 3A-6A schools. If a home team does not yet have a shot clock in the regular season, then there will not be a shot clock for that game. If that happens in the playoffs, the game will be moved to another site that has a shot clock.

New state track proposal

Hines also announced that on Monday, the AIA Executive Board will vote a new proposal for how the state track meets will be run, which will essentially create an Open Division for track and field athletes.

The proposal would create a new 5th division for track and field, which would be for 1A and 2A schools. 3A schools would be in Division IV, and Division I, II, and III would be for the big schools.

Each division would then hold a statewide meet and determine division champions. Those meets would be held the first week of May, a week earlier than normal.

Then, the top 18 athletes and teams from all divisions would be selected to meet in a 2nd state championship meet the next week, which Hines called "a true state championship."

Hines said this proposal came to mind because there have been times when athletes from lower division schools (such as a girl from a 1A school, which he did not name, that ran the 100 meters) could have beaten athletes from much larger schools.

Other notes

Hines said that the AIA is considering adding girls' flag football as a recognized sport and that it could happen as soon as the 2023-24 school year. They would like to run it in the fall, at the same time as football, and hold championships on the same weekend and at the same venues as boys' football, which Hines pointed out, is already being done in states like Georgia.

Hines also spent some time talking about venues for state championships, saying that it is becoming hard to find places to hold their championship events due to availability at the venues and finances.

Hines would like to find smaller venues to host, as they could make for a better championship atmosphere than a 70,000-seat stadium when only about 10,000 fans show up.

Hines mentioned that he has spoken with Phoenix Rising FC about using their stadium at Wild Horse Pass but said no decision has been made. He also said the AIA has talked with Chase Field officials about using the ballpark around the same time as the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Right now, the site of this year's state championships for football is listed as "TBD" on AZPreps365.com.

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