With union and harmony on the ropes between the state's public and private schools, the Arkansas Activities Association decided to pack more of a punch.
So, while brushing aside a proposal to have private and public schools play for separate state championships, AAA officials put some weight in their gloves.
The AAA's board of directors Tuesday voted to give a "do not pass" recommendation to the proposal that grew out of some dominating success and recruiting issues with a few private schools to the angst of several public schools.
A recommendation by the board of directors is not binding on the AAA's Governing Body, composed of administrators from all schools. That group will have the definitive vote on the measure in August. It must gain a 2/3 positive vote to pass. Historically, the Governing Body votes the wishes of the board of directors.
But not always. Last year, the board gave a "do pass" recommendation to a reclassification proposal involving 7A and 6A. Although the movers behind the recommendation were confident, it was voted down.
That's why AAA officials added their clout to the private school/public school situation.
By dialogue among all parties, solid analysis and research, AAA officials got to the root of the problem: Public school officials are mad, some very, very mad, about private schools supposedly "raiding," and offering scholarships and other recruiting endorsements to lure top athletes to their school after they had established themselves as stars in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades in the public school system.
The AAA board has unveiled a proposal as a wild card with a lot of wallop. Under that proposal, to be eligible for athletics in transferring to a private school, a student must enroll before July 1 of his seventh-grade year or the year the institution offers enrollment.
That theoretically prevents an athlete who becomes a bonafide star in a public school to transfer to a private school at the height of his high school career. For example, under the AAA proposal, running back Jaycob Baker would not have been allowed to transfer from Conway High to Conway Christian at the start of his junior year three years ago -- no matter what the reason for the transfer.
The AAA's counter proposal is supported by Berryville superintendent Randy Byrd, who generated the separate playoff proposal through his activity district onto the table of the full board.
Lance Taylor, AAA executive director, said the board's proposal may be a strong fallback if all else fails. He said it will not be offered unless the Governing Body passes the proposal to separate private schools and public schools for state championships.
With that alternate proposal hanging in the balance, which would theoretically and drastically limit any recruiting practices among some private schools and discourage some others from even thinking about it, we suspect the separate playoff proposal will fail. In any case, we expect the state's private schools and public schools to remain under the AAA's umbrella.
It was a good move by AAA officials, often accused of allowing too many strange and ill-advised things to happen even though they are at the legislative mercy of their member schools, to try to stomp out the flames of a controversy before they began burning out of control.
As expected, the AAA board also awarded a new three-year contract to Summit Arena in Hot Springs for the state championship finals.
The tournament has worked better than expected in Hot Springs and officials there have improved the setup in each of the three years. The arena has proven to be the perfect size for the maximum exciting, electric atmosphere a state championship game deserves, regardless of the size of the schools.
There was strong sentiment across the board, particularly with economic issues involving both schools and fans, to keep the event in central Arkansas, as accessible as possible to all areas of the state. That was a major factor against Jonesboro and Fayetteville, who were reportedly considering bids.
Alltel soon-to-be-Verizon Arena in North Little Rock had a successful three-year run before Hot Springs the three-year contract for 2007, but officials had to back away when the tourney was expanded to three days to accommodate the 14 state title games. The expense of renting Alltel for three straight days was not cost-effective.
The Little Rock School District proposed to host the title games at the Stephens Center at Arkansas-Little Rock, a fine facility. However, the Stephens Center is smaller in capacity than the Hot Springs Arena and would require more complex hotel logistics.
Hot Springs has two trump cards: 1. It's a tourist town and hosting eventsand visitors is in its DNA. 2. It has two very nice hotels attached to the Convention Center (that houses the arena). Keeping all teams together in a central location and enabling teams and fans to walk to and from the playing arena is attractive to everyone.
The AAA dodged one bullet and deflected another. That's pretty good day's work.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)