Private-school plan allows for mobility
Ahead of a Thursday hearing in the Arkansas State House of Representative’s education committee on House Bill 1097 — one that would force the Arkansas Activities Association to separate public and private schools in athletic competition — the AAA has released a plan it hopes can make for more balanced competition.
The Competitive Equity Factor, released last week to the AAA’s member schools, creates a system in which private schools could either move up or down a classification depending on their performance over the span of the previous four seasons.
If approved by a majority of schools, the Competitive Equity Factor would be used in the next reclassification cycle — which is set to start in the 2022-23 academic year — and would be applied retroactively.
The Competitive Equity Factor would be utilized for all sports sponsored by the AAA and applied on a teamby-team basis, meaning an individual school could compete in different classifications for different sports.
“There’s no doubt when you look at football and you’ve got six classifications and [three] private schools winning — and there are eight football-playing private
schools — that’s a problem,” AAA Assistant Executive Director Derek Walter said. “The problem is that we’re not Tennessee or Mississippi that has 80 private schools. We have eight … and they range from Little Rock Catholic (in 7A) to Conway Christian (in 2A), so that’s not good for kids, either.”
The formula created by the AAA awards points to a team based on results in a given season. If a team ends with a winning conference record, it would earn one point. A state playoff win is worth two, a state finals appearance worth three and a state championship four.
A team could accumulate a maximum of four points for a given season. For example, Pulaski Academy’s football team would have tallied four points in each of its state title-winning seasons (2017, 2019, 2020) and three points when it finished as runner-up to Little Rock Christian in 2018 for a four-year cycle.
That total of 15 points over four seasons would be more than enough to push the Bruins up a classification, making them a Class 6A team rather than a 5A team.
Any team that compiles 10 points or more over such a span would be labeled “dominant” and moved up, and any team that earns two or fewer — meaning they finish with a losing record in at least two of four seasons — would go down a classification as a “noncompetitive” side.
“Things that are outside of my control, I really do not spend much time worrying or thinking about,” Little Rock Christian football Coach Eric Cohu said. “We love competing with the AAA schools. Just the atmosphere of Friday night football and the community involvement that takes place … we obviously want to be a part of high school football in Arkansas.”
Such a formula compares to those of nearby states. Missouri implemented a nearly identical system starting this academic year, using results from the past six seasons while also removing its enrollment multiplier, which takes a private school’s attendance and multiplies it by 1.35 as a way to balance out a private school’s ability to recruit and offer scholarships.
Alabama, unlike Missouri, still uses its 1.35 multiplier before adding a competitive balance factor based on a team’s past three years.
It remains unclear whether Arkansas private schools would initially be moved back down to their numerically appropriate classification before the factor is included — for example, Little Rock Christian, which would normally be a Class 4A football school, is automatically moved up to 5A. Add in the factor and the Warriors would be bumped up to 6A based on their results the past four seasons.
“The teams that are dominant — i.e. winning multiple state championships and seemingly can’t be beat in their classification — should move up,” Cohu said. “One key thing is a way for a team that gets moved up [and isn’t dominant] … they ought to be able to move down to where their numbers correspond.”
Pulaski Academy football Coach Kevin Kelley fell into a similar boat as his Little Rock Christian counterpart, adding that he would prefer the “dominant” label be applied to both public and private schools, similar to how promotion-relegation systems are utilized in European soccer leagues.
“Let’s be honest, dominant is dominant regardless, and there are some teams that just are [dominant],” Kelley said in a text. “Overall, I think many teams that win a lot will look forward to a change and a brand new challenge.”
On the public school side of things, it remains to be seen how those schools will feel. The AAA member institutions have 20 days from when the proposal was sent out last week to vote either yes or no on the emergency ballot — normally, the AAA would have waited until its usual August meeting to consider such a topic.
Little Rock Parkview football Coach Brad Bolding, who competes in the 6A-West Conference and could potentially wind up in a conference with both the Bruins and Warriors if the formula were to go into effect, said the proposal was “way above” him.