LITTLE ROCK _ After an illegal procedure on a vote decision and a 35-minute huddle among Arkansas Activities Association officials and high school administrators, a seemingly dead Proposal 9 was resuscitated during a crazy session Monday of the high school governing body.
Proposal 9, by far the most controversial of the nine recommendations up for approval before the ruling body, consisting of representatives of all schools, called for widespread changes in classification and different conference affiliations for all sports except football. Beginning with the 2018-2019 seasons, seven classifications in Arkansas will be reduced to six and blended conferences (those with teams of different size classifications) will be eliminated.
An impassioned appeal to defeat the measure by Vilonia principal Matt Sewell (the only individual to speak for or against any ballot issue) initially seemed to defeat the proposal, 141-68. Since it was a constitution amendment, it required a 2/3 positive vote. With 216 high school administrators registered to vote at Monday’s meeting, the proposal was initially deemed defeated, three votes short of a 2/3 majority.
Not so fast.
Proponents quickly pointed out to AAA officials that the organization’s constitution mandated that an amendment needed a positive 2/3 vote among the votes actually cast, which was 209 instead of 216. With that, the measure passed by two votes (139 representing 2/3).
After that, it was like waiting for a replay review. The ruling on the floor was the measure failed but the challenge had teeth.
There was tense drama as administrators hung about the large room at the Statehouse Convention Center.
Lance Taylor, executive director of the AAA, huddled with the officers of the Governing Body. Parliamentarian Steve Straessle was summoned.
AAA officials recounted the ballots. Taylor then asked one administrator who vote for the proposal and one who voted against it to individually count the votes. All counts came out, 141-68.
Since the result met the 2/3 majority of the votes that were cast as stated in the constitution, John Ciesla of Greenwood, president of the Board of Directors, determined that Proposal 9 had actually passed.
Before the final determination, Taylor consulted by Ed Sellers, retired administrator and AD at Vilonia.
"Ed teaches Robert’s Rules of Order in college; he’s the expert in the room," Taylor said. "I wanted to make sure I was correct. He’s gonna do what’s right. When I explained the situation, he told me although he disagreed with the proposal, we had to do the right thing and follow the rules."
And so the structure, which leaves football conferences alone but sets up different levels of classification and conferences for every other sport, will go into effect for the 209 season.
The 16 largest schools (by average daily attendance) will be in 6A, the next largest 32 in 5A, the next largest 48 in 4A. Then, the remaining schools will be divided by three and placed in 1A-3A by enrollment.
Sewell argued that travel issues were relevant only to a handful of schools. "Unless you have a Star Trek transporter, some schools will always have travel issues."
He expressed concerned about competitive balance with larger schools competing against smaller schools in conferences other than football. "How do I explain to kids why they are competing against 5A schools in football (which is unchanged) and 6A schools (such as Jonesboro and West Memphis) in other sports?" he said. "We have developed relationships in our conferences that have existed for years.
"If this passes, everyone will hate it and hate it enough that we will have another proposal in two years. … I hate blended conferences but I hate Proposal 9 more. I think we need to wait two more years and explore better options rather than have this shoved down our throat."
He also accused AAA and high school officials of succumbing to pressure by elected officials to accommodate travel issues and budgets.
"(Pressure) happens every session," Taylor said. "There’s always pressure but there are travel issues for the schools, not only for the legislature but the community, parents and everybody. Everybody wants to see their children play. If I can’t get off work and see my children play, that’s an issue.
‘… Two things schools always tell us. They don’t want to play people twice their size because it’s a numbers issue and they don’t want to have to travel. Unfortunately, some schools do have to travel. But it’s more issues than just the legislature. Some schools are isolated in their classification."
"We’ve got to go back to work, gather data, get the board together and have a workshop and determine all these conferences," Taylor said. "It will be awhile."