The email, sent to a namesake by someone at University of California, Davis read in part, "I became aware of the paper you submitted as part of your postgraduate degree, entitled, ‘Achieving long-term energy, transport and climate objectives: multi-dimensional scenario analysis and modeling within a systems level framework."
I politely replied that this email went to the wrong David McCollum and that I couldn’t take credit for a paper in which I couldn’t even understand the title.
That title was only slightly less complicated to understand than the Arkansas Activities Association’s power-ranking and playoff-seeding structure for most sports in Class 7A and 6A.
The Central and East Conferences are a mix of four 7A teams and four 6A teams each, arranged geographically rather than by size for the regular season for volleyball, football, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer. For the state playoffs, teams reverted to their size classifications. Seeding and qualification were determined by a power-ranking point system that hardly anyone without an advanced degree in mathematics could fully understand (maybe).
Basically, hardly any officials and coaches did. They relied on the computations of a colleague and friend, Walter Woodie, a high school teacher in Van Buren, part-time journalist and bigtime stats and numbers guru. "If Walter didn’t send us regular updates, I don’t know if any of us would really know where we stand," one coach told me.
Extreme complications resulted from not every high school being good in every sport, particularly in 6A. For example, Little Rock Hall and Little Rock Parkview, both 6A schools participating in the Central Conference that includes Conway, are beasts when it comes to basketball and lambs when it comes to most other sports.
Exhibit A of the problem related to the Conway girls basketball team this season. The Lady Cats soundly defeated two teams that made the state tournament field in their classification, Cabot and West Memphis, but failed to make the 12-team playoff field because of the power rankings. In 7A/6A Central were Hall, Parkview, Fort Smith Northside and Southside, Greenwood, Russellville and Mount St. Mary. Conway finished behind all but Russellville and Mount St. Mary.
Playing for the 7A state title this season were Fort Smith Northside and Southside. Playing for the 6A girls title were Hall and Parkview. Four of the eight teams in Conway’s conference reached the state finals in their classifications. If state playoff qualifications were based entirely on conference games among 7A members of 7A Central, the Lady Cats make the field.
The Conway girls were not a great team, but their out-of-conference record indicates they were good enough to make the 12-team state tournament field in 7A. They missed the state playoffs more because of structure than performance.
In 2010, the Conway football team finished the regular season 9-1, was a tri-champion of 7A/6A Central but was leapfrogged from gaining a No. 1 seed for the state playoffs by 6A West Memphis, which played in a weaker conference but had some points-enhancing victories over 7A teams in that league.
After much study, ranting and angst, high school officials have come up with Plan B. By a 26-7 vote by mail by representatives of every 7A/6A school (Little Rock Catholic and Mount St. Mary voted separately), they’ve cut through the complications to adopt the "Keep It Simple Stupid" plan.
Basically, 7A/6A Central and 7A/6A East will remain evenly split (4-4) between 7A and 6A schools. However, the power-ranking formula that included points for conference victories, bonus points for defeating a higher-classification team and bonus points for each opponent’s conference victories (think BCS) has been eliminated.
However, playoff seeding for each classification in the two heavily blended conferences will be based on head-to-head competition among the four other schools of the same classification in the conference. Simply put, four 7A schools and four 6A schools in both the Central and East will be playing for three top places to join six state playoff spots in each classification from the less equally blended West and South.
The playoff field in the 16-team 6A will be reduced from 16 (everybody’s in regardless of record) to 12. That eliminates Little Rock Fair, which has one of the least-successful athletic programs in the state, having to further embarrass itself by making the state playoffs with team that were 0-for-the-season in football and girls basketball.
The changes take effect by the 2014-2016 reclassification cycle.
No playoff setup is perfect. But some are more perfect than others.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)