Realignment for 2012-14 cycle increases use of point system in 7A, 6A; Salt Bowl may not be season-opener after this year

By Rob Patrick

Shoulders were shrugged, eyes were rolled, brows were raised, and[more] heads were shaken or scratched or both.

Those were typical reactions when a plan, which was instituted by the Arkansas Activities Association for the 2010-2012 cycle, was explained to fans of high school athletics in the state last year.

In the name of saving travel expenses, two conferences — the East and the Central — became what might be called “mixed use” leagues. The Central, a Class 7A (top 16 schools in attendance) league in previous cycles, retained two member schools (Russellville and Van Buren) that had fallen to Class 6A enrollment. The East, a Class 6A (second 16 schools in attendance) league up to then, retained two members (West Memphis and Little Rock Hall) that had grown to 7A level. Yet, at the end of each respective season, Russellville and Van Buren would compete for the Class 6A State championship while West Memphis and Hall competed for the 7A title.

The problem was that, somehow, it had to be determined where West Memphis and Hall would fit into the 7A post-season when neither team had played more than a couple of 7A teams during the regular season. Conversely, where would Van Buren and Russellville fit into the seedings for the 6A post-season after having battled the bigger schools from Class 7A most of the way?

Somehow, the powers that be came up with a formula, granting points for this or that — who you beat, by how much, who had your opponent beaten, by how much, who’d you lose to, etc.

It was a mess. There was confusion, frustration and even a lawsuit filed by Van Buren when officials felt they had been misled about the formula that was used for the Class 6A playoffs.

So, wouldn’t it figure that when it came time for the 2012-2014 cycle to be hashed out, that something would be worked out so 7A teams played in 7A leagues and 6A teams played in 6A leagues?

Guess again.

Not only was the crazy point system not eliminated, it will actually be expanded to involve more than just the four teams mentioned above. In fact, instead of just two leagues being affected by the 7A/6A mix, now all four of them will be.

Starting in 2012, the Class 7A Bryant Hornets will be competing during the regular season in the South conference where every other team is a 6A member: Benton, El Dorado, Little Rock J.A. Fair, Lake Hamilton, Pine Bluff, Sheridan and Texarkana.

So, Bryant and Benton will once again be in the same conference though they won’t be competing for the same State championship. That means that, chances are, this year will be the last for the Salt Bowl to be played to open the season. Conference games traditionally begin in week four.

When the two schools were in the same league prior to 2001, they played in the final game of the season. If they return to that scenario, they may run into complications if it is to be played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock as it has been in recent years. War Memorial not only hosts University of Arkansas games, it serves as the home stadium for Little Rock Catholic.

The other leagues:

The East will include, from Class 7A, Cabot, Little Rock Catholic/Mount St. Mary, North Little Rock and West Memphis along with 6A schools Jonesboro, Marion, Mountain Home and Searcy.

In the West, Bentonville, Fayetteville, Springdale Har-Ber, Rogers Heritage, Rogers, Springdale and Van Buren (moving back up in the new cycle) from the 7A along with 6A Siloam Springs.

In the Central, Conway, Little Rock Central, Fort Smith Northside and Fort Smith Southside from the 7A will be joined by 6A schools Greenwood, Hall, Little Rock Parkview and Russellville.

Whoever answers the challenge of figuring those points (yes, you Walter Woodie) and seeding the post-season will need a super-dooper, heavy-duty calculator and more than a few hours. 

Incidentally, there were proposals up for a vote last week to change things. Though some didn’t realize it initially, however, the new conference alignments weren’t on the table. They were set.

Word is, some of the voters were told that a vote against the proposals would “keep things the way they were” and most figured that meant a continuation of the set up during the 2010-2012 cycle including the conferences.

Such was not the case.

The votes were basically only about the post-season arrangements and all three proposals failed.

One proposal was recommended by the AAA board. It would’ve turned the top two classifications of 16 schools each into one of 32 as was the case before the 2005-06 school year. All 32 teams would play for one State championship.

Despite the recommendation, that proposal failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote, gaining only a one-vote plurality. Other rejected proposals would’ve left the top 16 schools in one classification and grouped the next 32 schools, or would’ve combined the top 32 schools in every sport except football.

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