McCollum's Column: Geography, size, fairness. It's complicated

LITTLE ROCK — Things were humming along nicely at the Arkansas Activities Association’s Governing Body meeting (where there was no real controversy on what was thought to be controversial) when Vilonia’s Ed Sellers threw a temporary wrench into the proceedings.


He asked for a parliamentary inquiry to delay the vote for a year on a measure to restructure conferences and state playoffs for 2016. He asked for a parliamentarian to check on whether his proposal to delay a vote on a recommended proposal on he agenda was kosher.


AAA officials fidgeted a bit. They did not have a parliamentarian. There were huddles and sidebar sessions and whispers at the dais.

After unofficial parliamentarians emerged, Sellers’ proposal to delay was finally ruled in order, but since there was no printed ballot for a non-agenda procedure, there had to be a show of hands and officials circled the room for an old-school hand count. The recommendation to delay was rejected, 83-47, and the new structuring proposal was then approved, 94-40. One wondered what would have happened if the original proposal had been rejected, essentially putting a delay on the restructuring until a new proposal could work its way through the process next year.

While obviously swimming upstream, Sellers made a solid point.

For every sport except football, districts would be arranged by geography and schools of different sizes would be grouped together in districts. The schools would return to their regular conferences and classifications for the postseason.

“You have conferences for football and district areas for everything else,” he said. “The relationship with your conference is minimized. Relationships with kids in a conference is minimized. We can delay this a year and see more details in how this can play out.”

Sellers identified some potential problem areas.

7A and 6A conferences will be set in two eight-team leagues each, eliminating those aggravating blended conferences and setting more workable eight-team state playoffs.

In the smaller classifications, how can you fairly seed for conference, regional and state playoffs in most sports when you have districts that are nowhere near apples to apples as far as competition? How do you seed playoffs when one team may have a great record but has played in a weak district while another has a lesser record but in a tougher district with some larger schools? How do you select all-conference teams when some teams in a conference may not see each other directly in some geographical situations?

There is one instance in which Dermott is about 200 miles from the nearest school in a Class A conference.

“I’m not against what was proposed, but I didn’t think we needed to vote in something before we knew exactly how it was going to work,” Sellers said. “We had some time to work on this. I just thought it needed a year of further study, then if we voted it in next year, we would still have a year to implement.”

It illuminated a growing and complicated issue in Arkansas high school sports.

It’s impossible to work things out evenly and fairly by geography and size.

Schools in many places are having smaller gates because they have lost their old conference rivalries — or the regular-season conference and postseason conference setups are always in a state of flux because of travel issues, economic issues and growth or lack of growth.

Many classic rivalries have vanished.

It’s been decades since St. Joseph and Guy-Perkins, one of the best basketball rivalries in state history, has had meaning. A generation has passed since the Faulkner County small-school matchup has had any intensity.

Vilonia and Greenbrier are in different conferences in some sports.

Mayflower, by its location on the I-40 corridor, has been all over the board (and state) in conference arrangements, often in different sports in the same calendar year.

Conway is not in the same conference with its nearest fellow 7A member, North Little Rock, which is in a conference with Jonesboro and Marion.

Little Rock Central and Little Rock Hall are in different classifications.

Instead of Greenbrier and Vilonia, Siloam Springs and Alma are in the same conference with Conway.

Atkins is in the same conference with Marianna and Barton.

You could go on and on.

Travel and academics and late-night bus rides and loss of class time are primary concerns — as they should be.

It’s just a dysfunctinal geographic situation and it’s not going to get better. There is talk of another high school in both Springdale and Bentonville and what used to be tiny northwest Arkansas communities, such as Gentry and Pea Ridge, are growing leaps and bounds. There seem to be changes ahead for Fort Smith schools.

So how do you create great high school rivalries while maintaining strong academic standards in a constantly changing geographic enviroment and culture? Also, you have an athletic structure in which most sports in high school require almost year-round individual commitment. The number of multi-sport athletes is growing smaller and smaller. There is major pressure on young people to specialize.

The business side is colliding with the fun side.

The extracurricular and the competitive and the logistcal are engaged in a complex web.

It will take more than a parliamentarian to untangle.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)