The crazy, confusing schedules of the AAC

It seems like so long ago – the days of simpler times in high school sports when everyone knew what league they were in and what conference they were a part of.

Back in this day and age, gas averaged $2.78 a gallon, “Mad Men” made it’s television debut and “Spider-Man 3” was the top grossing movie of the year.

That’s right folks, the golden year of 2007.

Why is this year significant in the world of high school sports in the Mahoning Valley? Because it was the year before a majority of the schools all teamed up and joined the ever-evolving, but always confusing, All-American Conference.

When the AAC was created, it began with three tiers, the Red, White, and Blue Tiers, which were divided by enrollment. Or at least that’s what the original plan was. But then there were cases when some teams jumped tiers because they wanted better competition (and some schools wanted nothing to do with playing bigger schools), so they got a team to virtually swap with them. Between teams switching and teams getting out of the league after the first two years, it was very confusing to keep straight of who was supposed to be where.

Things could have become a lot easier during the 2011-12 scholastic season when the conference decided to eliminate the third tier and go to two divisions – the American Division and the National Division. The American Division housed the highest enrolled schools and the National the lowest. Each division would have a conference champion and all would be right and easy in the world – or at least that is what one would think.

Football scheduling is easy enough, but that’s because there are only 10 games, so each team plays each other once. Nice and easy. Then there are the other sports – namely basketball, baseball and softball – which makes people scratch heads on how the scheduling is done and who really is the conference champion.

The best way to explain this is by giving an example – let’s use the Howland Tigers, which are in the American Division with Canfield, Poland, Austintown Fitch, Niles, Beaver Local, Hubbard and Struthers. In a perfect world, Howland should play each of these teams twice, which would fill 14 games on a schedule (an athletic director’s dream).

However, that’s not the case. Howland, which has the second highest enrollment in the conference, plays Fitch, Poland and Canfield twice – the other three teams with the highest enrollments in the division. The other half of the division, Struthers, Hubbard, Beaver Local and Niles, only once. Yet all of the games count toward the league record.

Some coaches were actually led to believe that there were subdivisions within each division, allowing the AAC to crown four champions. That isn’t the case according to AAC Commissioner Rick King. However, the scheduling being divided was for a reason.

“Some schools were not happy with the difference in the enrollment within their divisions,” King said. “We thought this was a good way to keep the schools with closer enrollment playing each other more times then the other schools, but still having all teams play. However, I think we tried to out-think ourselves trying to do what we think is fair.”

In the case of different enrollments, that’s a fact. Austintown Fitch has 1,235 students compared to Beaver Local with 515. That’s a huge gap. But it’s been proven time and time again, sometimes smaller schools compete quite well with bigger schools in certain sports. There’s never going to be a perfect solution, no matter how simple or complicated someone makes it.

Sometimes the mentality of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” needs to be reminded to people who make decisions.

What is wrong with having a conference with teams playing each other twice (once at home and once away) and whoever has the best record is the conference winner? It’s worked before, it’s currently working in the Inter Tri-County League, and guess what, it can work for the AAC as well.

King said it the best, “I think we tried to out-think ourselves trying to do what we think is fair.” He also said that he’s already been talking to administrators about scheduling, and he hopes when the new conference is unveiled (the new membership vote is this week) and schedules start to be put together, that they are aiming to build them the simplest way possible.

Let’s hope that’s the case.