LITTLE ROCK — Until a couple of co-workers started talking high school football playoffs en route to a Razorback road game, I thought dance competitions had the lock on the concept of “Trophy for Everybody.”
Wrong. When the playoffs began last month, all 16 teams in 6A, the state’s second highest classification, were competing. Among the participants were 0-10 Mountain Home, 0-9 Little Rock Hall and 1-9 Little Rock Fair.
In the first round, those teams lost by a combined 139-26. It was so bad that Greenwood reached the 35-point margin to trigger the “mercy rule” in the first quarter, but the continuous clock can’t be invoked until the second half and merciful Greenwood coach Rick Jones took it upon himself to settle for 49-12.
The situation was not much better in 7A where 12 of the 16 teams make the playoffs, but power ratings are first and foremost in 6A, which makes for a mess. For instance, a 6A team gets two points for playing a 7A team in its conference — win or lose. I’m pretty sure judges in the dance competitions deduct points for messing up.
Making the point that 6A is all about power ratings, someone involved in high school coverage pointed out the seedings of playoff participants from 7A-6A-South. For starters, Bryant’s 6-1 record was the best in the conference, but Bryant was seeded into the West because of fallout from a conference configured to keep two Fort Smith schools in the same league. So, Bryant went to the West as the No. 2 seed behind eventual champion Bentonville. That left El Dorado, Lake Hamilton and Pine Bluff tied at 5-2.
El Dorado beat the other two 5-2 teams and was the No. 1 seed from the South in 6A. Now comes the fun part. Lake Hamilton defeated Pine Bluff but the Zebras were the No. 2 seed. Huh? Turns out, Pine Bluff finished one point ahead of Lake Hamilton in the power ratings because the Zebras defeated six-win Bryant.
A partial solution in the works for the 2014-2016 cycle is being challenged and I’m not taking sides since a well-liked relative is involved in the lawsuit filed by the Bryant School District.
The suit contends that Bryant’s one-way travel for conference games would increase more than 450 miles in the two-year cycle, mostly because of trips to Siloam Springs, Alma and Greenwood. Approved by the schools involved, the East is also out of whack with Jonesboro, Mountain Home, West Memphis and Marion, and four schools in Central Arkansas.
Groupings in the South and West make more geographical sense, but changing a conference alignment creates a hole in the dike elsewhere. Schools with the largest enrollments do not always win, but I understand why schools with 1,000 students or so don’t want to compete against schools with an enrollment of more than 2,000. A constant work in progress because of shifts in population, the system never has been perfect and never will be.
In the day when the nine largest high schools in the state were in one conference, three gallons of gas cost $1 and there was less concern about students missing school, a co-worker from El Dorado traveled to Blytheville to play a game and overnighted in a downtown hotel after the 300-plus mile trip.
If Bryant loses its lawsuit, power ratings are gone and traditional tie-breakers are back.
Still, 12 of the 16 teams in both 6A and 7A will make the playoffs. Teams in 6A South and 7A West will play seven conference games each and teams in the other two conferences will play three league games apiece. Three teams from four-team conferences will qualify. So, instead of winless teams in the playoffs, some will be 1-2 in conference play.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.