The problem with realignment and reclassification issues among Arkansas high schools is perspective.
Almost every administrator, every coach and every athletic director looks at the situation through different lenses largely focused on personal biases.
For example, when Little Rock Parkview and Little Rock Hall were shifted from their original placement in East Conference in the new 7A/6A merger for regular-season competition, that conference’s other football coaches were real happy. Trading North Little Rock and Cabot for Parkview and Hall was a no-brainer for football.
But the East basketball coaches were against it because in Parkview and Hall, the league gained two of the state’s traditional basketball powers at any level.
Administrators were looking at travel expenses. Coaches were looking a potential won-loss record and competitive advantage. That’s natural. Winning and losing is the standard by coaches they are ultimately measured.
Based on an appeal by Searcy, which was originally placed in 7A Central and would have to compete against many of the largest schools in the state, the 32 7A/6A representatives voted to return North Little Rock, Cabot and Bryant (which would have been the only 7A school in the South Conference) back to the Central. Parkview and Hall were sent to the East Conference although they still have nearby conference opponents in Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and Searcy. Little Rock Fair was sent from the Central to the South.
Cabot, North Little Rock and Bryant got a break. They didn’t like the original setup but really didn’t have a tangible, arguable case on appeal. Searcy did. Administrators at those schools could stand aside and let Searcy throw the clearing block.
But when you look at the overall sports picture in high schools, the new alignment (which keeps the Central Conference the same) is what it should be.
North Little Rock, Cabot and Bryant belong in the same league with generally kindred spirits in Conway, Russellville, Central, Van Buren, Little Rock Catholic/Mount St. Mary and Russellville.
For Conway, it’s a big bonus financially. Fans of North Little Rock, Cabot and Bryant travel well and support their teams in good numbers — in just about every sport. Parkview, Hall and Little Rock Fair fans don’t. There is virtually no visiting gate for many sports and very little for football for those schools.
Furthermore, the shift was important from the competitive rivalries in all the sports. Many of the teams in the new 7A/6A Central teams are starting to develop rivalries, fan support and good competition in everything approaching what you see in the West.
Conway, North Little Rock, Cabot, Bryant and Little Rock Catholic/Mount St. Mary consistently sport strong and highly successful programs of state championship caliber any given year in almost every sport — some consistently better than others. Central, Russellville and Van Buren have their specialty areas but are generally competitive in most, particularly some of the so-called minor sports.
Little Rock Parkview, Hall and Fair, with a couple of exceptions, have not been very good in football in recent years. And in some sports, such as baseball, softball, volleyball, track, golf, cross country and soccer, they have often fielded no teams or awful ones. In many of those sports, the other programs in the Central would be better off with intrasquad games.
The good overall programs in the Central need the consistently strong competition with each other to help them prepare for state competition with the consistently strong programs in every sport from every school in from the West.
It is necessary to the health of the Central Conference, financially and competitively, to have Cabot, North Little Rock and Bryant together, particularly with Conway, Central and Little Rock Catholic/Mount St. Mary.
AAA officials have insisted on maintaining 16-team conferences at the highest level for perfect playoff purposes. That doesn’t work from either a size or geographic standpoint. There is a big gap between the largest schools in 7A and the smallest in 6A. And 6A, particularly for football, has a clear lack of competitive balance from top to bottom.
And it’s seems ridiculous for a state the size of Arkansas to have seven classifications for athletics.
We expect to see a proposal before the next classification cycle for the 16 largest schools (basically from the Central and the West) in one conference, then have leagues of 32 and 32 for the next two divisions that would merge the existing 6A, 5A and some of 4A. There are not as dramatic gaps in population among those 64 schools than there is for the top 16.
In that manner, for example, we could see a more travel-friendly conference for Vilonia and Greenbrier that could include Searcy, Beebe, Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills, Central Arkansas Christian, Morrilton and/or Little Rock Christian.
What was done last week in the merged 7A/6A is a stopgap rather than an ultimate solution.
All kinds of stuff will come up again.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)