School of­fi­cials mixed on Propo­si­tion 9 pas­sage

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - CHIP SOUZA

Not ev­ery school in the state came away thrilled from Mon­day’s an­nual meet­ing of the Arkansas Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion in Lit­tle Rock.

There were some schools that view the pas­sage of Propo­si­tion 9, a sweep­ing re­struc­tur­ing of con­fer­ences in most sports, as a pos­i­tive for their ath­letic pro­grams. Oth­ers are less than giddy about it. Put Lin­coln in the for­mer group, while Gen­try has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent view­point.

“We’re num­ber 96 in en­roll­ment, the sec­ond small­est in Class 4A,” said Gen­try ath­letic di­rec­tor Brae Harper. “Har­ri­son is dou­ble our size, so it makes it dif­fi­cult to com­pete with that.”

Propo­si­tion 9 re­vamps clas­si­fi­ca­tions be­low 7A for non-foot­ball sports. The fo­cus of the pro­posal was to elim­i­nate the cur­rent con­fus­ing blended con­fer­ence plan and re­struc­ture the clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem into more ge­o­graph­i­cal matchups based on en­roll­ment.

The mea­sure passed by the re­quired two-thirds ma­jor­ity Mon­day, 141 to 68.

The AAA will now draw the con­fer­ences for the 201820 cy­cle us­ing the new sys­tem. Class 7A will re­main un­changed other than be­com­ing Class 6A for sports other than foot­ball. The next

step down will be Class 5A, where the cur­rent 16 teams in Class 6A will merge with the largest 16 teams in Class 5A to cre­ate a 32-team class. Then Class 4A will take the re­main­ing 16 schools cur­rently in 5A and merge those with the next 32 largest schools. Classes 3A and be­low will be a split of the re­main­ing schools.

Foot­ball will re­main un­changed with the top 16 schools in Class 7A, and the next 16 in 6A and so forth down to Class 2A.

Gen­try’s en­roll­ment is 351 stu­dents while Har­ri­son is at 602, but they will be in the same non-foot­ball con­fer­ences un­der the new sys­tem. Gen­try will be the sec­ond-small­est pub­lic school in Class 4A, just ahead of Dover at 347, while Tru­mann is the largest 3A school at 345. Shiloh Chris­tian (231) will be the small­est school in the con­fer­ence, but the AAA re­quires that pri­vate schools bump up one clas­si­fi­ca­tion higher than its en­roll­ment would re­quire.

“I’m not sure what else could have been done dif­fer­ently,” Harper said. “I don’t think there is any right an­swer at this point. But we’re not go­ing to raise a stink about it. We’ll do what they tell us to do.”

Most school of­fi­cials agree, how­ever, that this plan is far bet­ter than the cur­rent blended con­fer­ence for­mat. Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, schools in 6A and be­low are grouped with other clas­si­fi­ca­tions for district play, then they scat­ter to con­fer­ence tour­na­ments with schools their own class size. The plan has been con­tro­ver­sial mainly be­cause of the seed­ing for con­fer­ence tour­na­ments.

Siloam Springs ath­letic di­rec­tor Kevin Down­ing said he sup­ports the new pro­posal. For the first time since mov­ing up to Class 6A be­fore the be­gin­ning of the 2012-13 school year, the district’s teams will play bas­ket­ball, base­ball and softball games in a con­fer­ence with­out some sort of blend. The Pan­thers have gone from the 7A/6A-West that cy­cle to the 7A/6A-Cen­tral in 2014-15 to 5A/6A District 1 in 2016-17.

“This will add to our con­fer­ence games and make those games mean more, and I think our coaches like that as­pect more,” Down­ing said. “Un­der the blended con­fer­ences, our coaches found it hard to un­der­stand what they were play­ing for, even though the coaches in the 6A-West did a great job of seed­ing tour­na­ments.”

Lin­coln is among the schools to greatly ben­e­fit from the pro­posal’s pas­sage. The Wolves will still com­pete in the 4A-1 for foot­ball, but they slide down to Class 3A for the other sports and likely will be grouped with Elkins, West Fork, Cedarville, Green­land and sev­eral other cur­rent 3A schools. Elkins also will play 4A foot­ball but bump down for other sports.

Huntsville ath­letic di­rec­tor Tom Tice said he’s look­ing forward to restor­ing some of the ri­valry games, like the al­ways en­ter­tain­ing bas­ket­ball clashes with Farm­ing­ton. The Ea­gles and Car­di­nals have staged some epic bat­tles over the years when they were both in Class 4A.

“I think those ri­valry games will add a lot of ex­cite­ment and big gates,” Tice said. “And I think our travel will be less. We were go­ing to Mar­shall and Yel­lville and places like that. So we’ll have closer games, which will be a plus.”

While Down­ing said he fully backs the new align­ment, there will be some changes for the cur­rent 16-team Class 6A when the new 32-team 5A clas­si­fi­ca­tion kicks in. The big­gest will be the num­ber of teams that make the post­sea­son. Cur­rently six teams from each of the two Class 6A con­fer­ences earn bids to the state tour­na­ment. That num­ber will shrink to four.

“Now that we will have 32 teams in this clas­si­fi­ca­tion, it dou­bles the amount of teams we have. That means more com­pe­ti­tion, and we will have to be ready for it,” Down­ing said. “It’s also go­ing to make go­ing to the state tour­na­ment mean that much more.

“We will have to play with the cards we are dealt. This means the state tour­na­ments will be a lit­tle bit tougher to make, but it will also be more of an ac­com­plish­ment when teams get there. That will add to the ex­cite­ment.”

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