Tucson High School Sports

AIA Sets Forth Football State Tournament Qualifying Marks


Some confusion exists even among coaches as to how many games must be scheduled to qualify for the state tournaments that begin Nov. 27 for Class 2A to the Open Division.

The Class 1A state tournament starts Nov. 13.

The AIA recently released the qualifying marks for each division. They are listed below with implications noted for Southern Arizona schools:

Open Division (eight-team state bracket)

In order to qualify, a school must have played a minimum of five games. Following the regular season, the top eight teams from the 4A-6A Conferences combined, based on the AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps, will be placed onto the Open Division state tournament bracket. The Open Division state tournament bracket will be seeded according to the overall ranking of the eight teams. The Open Division state tournament will consist of three rounds and will be single elimination.

  • 6A, 5A: Determined by AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps.
  • 4A: Determined by AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps following play-in round.

Southern Arizona implications: Salpointe and Buena, each 5A, are the only local schools presently that would qualify for the Open Division. Southern Arizona public schools released their schedules last week but still must gain clearance from school boards through information provided from the Pima County Health Department to go through with the schedules. Southern Arizona coaches and administrators have told AllSportsTucson.com that 3A through 6A local public schools will not compete in the state tournaments because they will lack enough qualifying games before Nov. 27. Many schools have only three games scheduled by then, including Class 3A Sabino and Class 4A Sahuaro. A proposal has been made to the AIA for Southern Arizona schools to have their own postseason tournament consisting of four teams.

Tucson High School is the only 6A team locally so it will not play a 6A school under the proposed schedules (AllSportsTucson.com photo)

6A and 5A (eight-team conference bracket)

In order to qualify, a school must have played a minimum of five games to be considered. The top eight teams based on the AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps will be selected to participate in the 6A and 5A Conference tournaments. If one or more teams qualify for the Open Division, the next highest ranked team(s) will be selected for the conference tournament brackets. The conference tournaments will consist of three rounds and will be single elimination.

Southern Arizona implications: Tucson High, a 6A school, will not qualify for the state tournament because it will lack enough qualifying games and its schedule does not include 6A opponents. As stated above, 5A local teams will not have five games scheduled by Nov. 27 to qualify. Salpointe and Buena, 5A schools who started playing Oct. 2, can qualify because each has enough games scheduled provided there are not cancellations because of COVID-19.

4A (16-team play-in bracket)

In order to qualify, a school must have played a minimum of five games to be considered. The top 16 teams based on the AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps will be selected to participate in the play-in round to be played in Week 8. Winners of the play-in games will advance to the eight-team conference tournament. If one or more teams qualify for the Open Division, the next highest ranked team(s) which lost in the play-in round will be included on the 4A Conference tournament bracket. Teams will be seeded on the conference tournament bracket according to the AIA rankings following the play-in round. The conference tournament will consist of three rounds and will be single elimination.

  • 4A Play-in: Top 16 teams as determined by AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps.
  • 4A Conference Tournament: Eight (8) winners from play-in games. If any play-in winners qualify for the Open Division, the next highest ranked team(s) that lost in the play-in round.

Southern Arizona implications: No local Class 4A team is presently playing and is not scheduled until Oct. 30, provided their school boards grant clearance. Again, the qualifying amount of five games will not be reached by Nov. 27. Only four games can be scheduled by then.

Sahuaro coach Scott McKee talks to his players during a practice (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

3A (16-team play-in bracket)

In order to qualify, a school must have played a minimum of four games to be considered. The top two teams from each of the six regions will receive an automatic bid to the 16-team play-in bracket to be played in Week 8. Final four play-in entries will be chosen from the third place region teams as selected by the 3A Conference region chairs (using AIA Rankings, head-to-head and analytical data as needed). The top six seeds in the play-in games will be the No. 1 seeds from each region and will be seeded based on the AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps. The No. 7 through No. 16 seeds of the remaining teams will be based on the AIA Rankings. Winners of the play-in games will advance to the eight-team state tournament bracket. Results from the play-in games will be included in the final rankings to determine the seeding for the state tournament bracket. The state tournament will consist of three rounds and will be single elimination.

  • 3A Play-in: Top two teams from each region (12 total) and four at-large third-place region teams as determined by 3A Conference.
  • 3A State Tournament: Eight (8) winners from play-in games.

Southern Arizona implications: Pusch Ridge, a private school that started its season Oct. 2, can qualify for the 3A state tournament. Sabino and Sahuarita can not qualify because they will not have enough games scheduled by Nov. 27 and they will not be playing a season full of 3A competition.

Sabino head coach Ryan McBrayer (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

2A (16-team play-in bracket)

In order to qualify, a school must have played a minimum of three games to be considered. The top 16 teams based on the AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps will be selected to participate in the play-in round. Winners of the play-in games will advance to the eight-team state tournament bracket and will be seeded according to the AIA rankings following the play-in round. The state tournament will consist of three rounds and will be single elimination.

  • 2A Play-in: Top 16 teams as determined by AIA Rankings powered by MaxPreps.
  • 2A State Tournament: Eight (8) winners from play-in games.

Southern Arizona implications: This is where it gets interesting for local teams. The Class 2A teams within Tucson who have yet to play include Catalina, Santa Rita and Tanque Verde. If able to play as scheduled, each of those schools will have three qualifying games played by Nov. 27, but no more. They have at least three games scheduled from Nov. 27 to Dec. 12. The possibility exists that they can qualify for the state tournament if they start 3-0, for example. They most likely will be content, however, to have their players have a six- to seven-game schedule against local schools. Other Southern Arizona 2A schools such as Eloy Santa Cruz Valley Union and Benson started their seasons already and will have reached their qualifying third game for the state playoffs by this week.

1A (8-team bracket)

In order to qualify, a school must have scheduled a minimum of six games including all regional opponents. The top two (2) teams in each region will earn an automatic bid to the state tournament. 1A Conference region chairs will break any ties (if necessary). Each of the region champions will serve as the top four (4) seeds on the state tournament bracket, and all eight teams will be seeded by 1A Conference leadership. The state tournament will consist of three rounds and be single elimination.

Southern Arizona implications: St. David, Valley Union and San Manuel will qualify with six games scheduled and playing a full regional schedule. However, under the AIA guidelines, none of these schools can risk having even one game canceled because of COVID-19. That would automatically disqualify them from the state playoffs because it would reduce their amount of games played to under the qualifying six total.


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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