High school athletics
Conference, class structures could change with proposal.
The landscape of Arkansas’ high school athletics could change significantly if school administrators approve Proposal No. 9 next week during the Arkansas Activities Association’s annual meeting of the governing body.
The purpose of the new proposal is to cut down on some of the travel issues schools face and to eliminate the blended districts that were used last year and will be in place again this school year.
The proposal, which will be voted on during Monday’s meeting in Little Rock, would change the current classification structure in almost every sport and lead to different conference alignments across the state. The changes, if the proposal passes, would become effective during the 2018-19 school year.
“It’s a big change,” Pea Ridge athletic director Kevin Ramey said. “The proposal
means new leagues and new teams and really changes the dynamics of how we’ve done things. But it’s an exciting proposal and one that has garnered a lot of discussion.”
The proposal calls for the elimination of one class in sports such as basketball, baseball, softball, tennis and track. Class 6A will consist of the state’s 16 largest enrollment high schools — those currently in Class 7A — but would alter the structure of the remaining classficiations. Class 5A would consist of the next 32 schools by enrollment, with the next 48 in Class 4A. The remaining schools will be divided into Classes 3A, 2A and 1A.
Football classifications would remain unchanged under the plan.
“I think they’re trying to make things better for high school athletes across the state,” said Farmington athletic director Brad Blew, who called the plan one of the best he’s seen in 15 years. “I think this is a positive step for high school athletics as a whole. I think it’s a good
plan. It’s not a perfect plan, but I think it will be an improvement.
“When we have that vote, I think it’s going to be a very interesting vote with the AAA. I think there will be some schools that will be very passionate, one way or another.”
In the current blended conference format, which groups two classifications together — 6A with 5A, 4A with 3A, and 2A with 1A — district games are during the regular seasons in basketball, baseball and softball. The teams then return to their respective classifications to begin postseason play. Seedings for those postseason tournaments, as well as the selection of all-state and all-conference players, led to confusion at times, especially when conference teams were split among three districts. Class 7A does not follow the blended conference format.
Games that were played against teams in another classifications last season often weren’t counted toward their records when conference tournament seedings were done. For example, West Fork played its entire regular-season schedule in a
district composed of schools from Washington and Benton counties but is aligned with the 4A-4 Conference of mainly River Valley schools and did not play a single team from that conference until the postseason tournaments began.
“We brought in school superintendents from across the state and allowed them to comment about the blended districts,” AAA executive director Lance Taylor said.
“The biggest questions that arose were about seeding these tournaments.
“The blended conferences cut travel for about 92 percent of the state’s schools. That cut schools’ expenditures, and the closer games led to increased gates and helped families not have to take off work most of the day in order to watch their kids play. It wasn’t a perfect plan, so we met with the superintendents to see what we could to fix the problem of seeding.”
The new proposal would also try to prevent smaller schools from having to play much bigger schools. If the current system continues into the 2018-19 school year, Huntsville, which moves up to Class 5A in the next cycle, would have to play basketball, baseball and softball district games against Class 6A’s Russellville, which has more than twice the student enrollment.
In the current plan, Pea Ridge, Gravette, Prairie Grove and Berryville will be among the largest Class 4A schools in the next reclassification cycle for football only. Under Proposal No. 9, those four schools would rank toward the middle of the pack in Class 4A for other sports, and likely would be joined by both Huntsville and Farmington based on current enrollment numbers.
“The good thing about it is, if it happens, it’s not real unfamiliar opponents,” Gravette athletic director Norman Mitchell said. “It’s interesting that we’ve been fortunate. Everything that happens, we’ve had a good conference since I’ve been here. Travel has been good, and it won’t change our travel that much.
“I’m not s u re how Gravette will vote right now. From a competitive side, it’s better that we vote against it. Looking at the big picture statewide, we still have some decisions to make.”
Blew said he would have liked the new proposal to include football, but Taylor said football games are generally only played once a week on Friday nights, so travel is not as problematic as other sports that are played multiple times during the week.
Other sports would be affected by the new changes in classification. Wrestling and swimming will add a classification by going Class 6A, Class 5A and Class 4A and below, while cross country will have five divisions instead of six. Soccer and volleyball will remain about the same with four classifications — Class 6A, Class 5A, Class 4A and Class 3A and below.
Because this proposal makes changes to the AAA handbook, it requires twothirds of the vote from participating schools in order to pass.