We learned at least two things last week from circuit judge Mary Spencer McGowan’s decision last week to dismiss Bryant High School’s appeal to remain in 7A/6A South rather than 7A/6A Central for the next Arkansas Activities Association classification cycle:
1. The inequity in population and geography in Arkansas is not going to be solved by the courts and the courts have no intention to solve it.
2. With conference alignment, the AAA cannot fairly solve a problem that is impossible to fairly solve because of the disparity in geography as it relates to school size.
It’s a mess that could lead to some crazy developments.
Bryant had sought to remain in the South because of the travel demands of being placed in the Central Conference, which is central in name only since it will consist of Siloam Springs, Van Buren, Greenwood, Alma and Russellville in addition to Conway, Little Rock Catholic/Mount St. Mary and Bryant.
Those are valid concerns, both from a budget standpoint and putting students on long road trips, particularly on weeknights.
The classification was set by a 26-7 vote by schools in the 7A classification, in accordance with the 2-3 majority as required by the organization’s bylaws.
The court basically determined that since the vote was in line with the bylaws and procedures set by the AAA and there was no case of fraud with the election process and that participation in extracurricular activities is not a constitutional right. With proof of fraud or the classification was arbitrary, the courts are extremely limited in their ability to interfere with in the disputes within private organizations.
In other words, the courts are not going to try to untangle the web of craziness that the AAA has created for itself by its own rules.
The AAA’s administration, easily attacked and misunderstood, is in the middle of that web. The AAA’s administrative staff exists to implement the rules that are set by the voluntary organization that is composed of representatives (and elected representatives as far as the board of directors) of every member high school in the state. The voluntary coalition of high school sets the rules and bylaws.
As long as things are legally done and in conjunction with the by-laws set by the membership, the AAA administration is as powerless to change things as the courts.
In other words, AAA institutions have to lie in the beds they make.
Now, to point No. 2.
Among the largest 32 schools, the AAA mandates four eight-team conferences because that makes it easier for playoff pairings and seedings.
But that doesn’t work with Arkansas geography and population, which is growing in the northwest, steady in pockets in central areas and declining almost everywhere else.
This is out ridiculous things have gotten.
Theoretically, the crazy 7A/6A makeup of conferences was to place teams in the two highest classifications in conferences by geography and to mitigate travel, then separate into 7A and 6A divisions for state tournaments.
How has that “geographic” pairing worked out?
• Conway and Bryant will be in the same conference next year as Siloam Springs.
• The closest 7A school to Conway is North Little Rock and the two high schools, with great fan bases, have had great rivalries through the year in many sports. They are no longer in the same conference and haven’t been for two years. For conference games, Conway travels to Greenwood and Van Buren and North Little Rock to West Memphis and Jonesboro.
• For the next classification cycle, there will be only three schools (Conway, LR Catholic/Mount St. Mary) and Bryant) that could legitimately be considered “central” with five others that are west and northwest. There will be four schools in the East Conference that are legitimately “central” (Cabot, North Little Rock, Little Rock Central and Searcy).
The previous 7A/6A merger for “geographic reasons” has led to a complicated rankings system for playoffs that is hardly apples-to-apples and not fair to anyone.
With the reclassification, that ratings system will disappear and 7A teams will be seeded for state competition based on results against 7A members and 6A teams the same way.
So, that leads to more craziness.
Bryant will be in a conference in which it will play five teams (Alma, Greenwood, Russellville, Siloam Springs and Van Buren) that would be meaningless as far as state seeding. However, if Bryant had remained in the South, it would be the only 7A team in that league so every conference game would count nothing toward playoff seeding.
You wonder, because of budgetary concerns or just to make a statement, Bryant or some other school will forfeit a game against Siloam Springs or Greenwood in whatever sport because it wouldn’t country anyway in the big picture.
That would make a mockery of the system, you say.
But a mockery has already been made as far as geographic equity.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)