Leader Blues

Friday, July 17, 2009

SPORTS >> Arkansas Activities Association has lot on plate at Aug. 4 meeting

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Nobody seems particularly happy with the Arkansas Activities Association these days, but then, when have they been? The AAA is developing the same reputation as the NCAA — overly officious, full of rules created with some abstract benefit in mind, but which ultimately leave a lot of people scratching their heads and saying, “What?”

Several big topics will be taken up at the Aug. 4 meeting, among them two alternate private school proposals designed to address what is perceived as those schools’ unfair advantage over their public counterparts.

There is a third proposal separate from those two that addresses enrollment and classification of private schools. That one would elevate to the next classification those private schools with 80 or more students in grades 9-11. A private school with an enrollment that would qualify it for 5A if it were a public school, for example, would compete in 6A. Currently, a 1.75 multiplier applies to private schools.

That same proposal would mandate that a private program that won a state championship in either football or boys basketball could not compete at a lower classification the following year, even if enrollment dropped a corresponding amount.

Because of potential Title IX issues (the proposal applies only to boys sports), the board of directors has an 18-0 Do Not Pass recommendation attached to it.

Proposals 7 and 8 for the August meeting are mutually exclusive. If Proposal 7 passes, Proposal 8 will not be taken up.

Proposal 7, in a nutshell, would provide for separate state championship tournaments for private and public schools, even though private schools would continue to compete in the regular season in conferences that include both public and private programs.

The board of directors is opposed to this by a 15-3 margin and has offered in its place a Non-Public Transfer Rule. This one strikes me as a reasonable alternative and one that will give smaller private schools a realistic chance at state championships in lower classifications. Because, after all, if private schools all compete in one conference, what chance would an Episcopal (currently 2A) have against a Pulaski Academy (5A)?

The Non-Public Transfer Rule, which is likely to beat out Proposal 7, mandates that students who enroll at a private school must do so by July 1 prior to beginning the seventh grade, or the lowest grade that school offers if it is higher than seventh grade. If they enroll at a time later than that, they will be ineligible for athletic competition for 365 days.

This would seem to address the recruitment issue that so many public schools have complained about after watching the Shiloh Christians and Pulaski Academies fairly dominate in recent years. This proposal also has a 17-1 Do Pass recommendation.

That leaves the matter of how to determine separate 6A and 7A champions once the two categories are realigned into one category featuring eight four-team conferences beginning in 2010.

Most people seem to agree that the two 16-team classifications (6A and 7A) have made a mockery of state championships by diluting the playoffs so completely that 12 of 16 teams qualify. And the conjoining of the 6A and 7A into a 32-team category hardly resolves the matter of diluting the crowns if, after all is said and done, we have two separate champions drawn from 16-team fields.

Beyond that is the fact that no one has any idea how the playoff berths will be determined, given the 6A and 7A schools will be competing in conferences together. If Jacksonville is placed in a conference with six other 7A schools and finishes seventh in the conference, for instance, would it be considered a No. 1 seed since it would be the top 6A team in the conference? Red Devil head coach Mark Whatley said at the Rotary Club meeting the other day he’d heard talk of a possible power rankings system, similar to what the Bowl Championship Series uses in college football. And we all know how fans love that.

It’s a mess and I’m not sure what the answer is. But half-measures and compromise will make matters only worse.

One AD has put forth a proposal to mix the top 16 teams from 5A with the current crop of 6A teams to form one 32-team conference. But that leaves the 7A as well as the remaining 5A conferences with just 16 teams.

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One final matter which affects fewer people and isn’t high on the priority chain is the two-week dead period that runs from late June through early July. Designed to give students a reprieve from the year-round athletic demands, the idea seems sound in concept.

The rule states that no school facilities can be made available and no high school coaches or volunteers can have contact with student athletes from that school for those two weeks. Unfortunately, while it impacts only few, it impacts them dramatically — American Legion baseball, specifically.

Those Legion teams which use high school facilities and whose coaches are affiliated with the high school make the biggest sacrifices. The Cabot junior Legion team received a double whammy in that regard. Cabot Legion plays at the high school field and the junior team is coached by Cabot High assistant coach Andy Runyan.

As a result, the Cabot junior Legion team was unable to play a home game after June 19 and was without its head coach until the second game of the zone tournament.