Saturday, October 24, 2009

SPORTS >> Vote gives approval, new look to 7A-6A

Leader sports editor

The new alignment of the 7A and 6A athletic conferences has a familiar look.
Very familiar.

The Arkansas Activities Association on Thursday ratified a vote by member institutions approving a change to the planned conference realignment for the 2010-2012 cycle. The proposal, put forward by Searcy High School, passed 23-9 on Wednesday.

Only the 6A and 7A schools took part in the vote.

AAA executive director Lance Taylor said the conferences were finalized and set by the balloting.

“That’s over 66 percent,” Taylor said. “That means the majority of them wanted to do this.”

Next year’s 7A-6A-Central will now look just like this year’s 7A-Central with members Bryant, Cabot, Conway, Little Rock Catholic, Little Rock Central, North Little Rock, Russellville and Van Buren.

Cabot and North Little Rock were originally slated to play in the 7A-6A-East and Bryant was to play in the 7A-6A-South.

“It affects us a whole lot because we were going to go back into the East and we were going to have a lot of trouble,” Cabot athletic director Johnny White said. “Our gates wouldn’t have been as good. By getting back into our old conference, financially, it’s a great thing for us. We’re excited to get it back the way it was.”

The 7A-6A-East will look just like the current 6A-East and will include Jacksonville, Jonesboro, Little Rock Hall, Little Rock Parkview, Marion, Mountain Home, Searcy and West Memphis, which is reclassified from 6A to 7A next year. Hall and Parkview had been scheduled to play in the 7A-6A-Central.

“It’s a little bit outside the box,” Taylor said. “But if it works, it works.”

The 7A and 6A were to have separate playoffs, but their regular season records would count toward playoff eligibility.

In pushing for the final tweak of the realignment, Searcy was taking into account travel issues as well as school size. North Little Rock and Cabot will have the second- and third-largest enrollments, respectively, in the state and Searcy would have had the smallest in the originally proposed 7A-6A.

“The proposal was about making size disparity matter in the conference alignment,” Searcy assistant superintendent Earl Walton said before the vote.

“They’re looking at size, trying to do the best they can from a travel perspective but they’re still looking at size,” Taylor said.

While Searcy got what it was looking for, other schools were less than satisfied. Jacksonville athletic director and former boys head basketball coach Jerry Wilson said he had been looking forward to meeting long-time rival Cabot in the same conference in football, and is less happy about having to face basketball powers Hall and Parkview.

Jacksonville and Cabot have set a two-year deal to play what will now be non-conference games, which means Jacksonville will continue to benefit at the gate from the traveling Cabot fans, at least in the short run.

Less appealing to Wilson is the basketball schedule.

“Nothing really changed,” Wilson said. “We were sort of, from an aspect of North Little Rock and Cabot coming in here, for us those are pretty good money games. Close proximity. We used to play them anyway. Then on the other hand, from a basketball standpoint you’re thinking Hall and Parkview, oh boy.”

But Wilson, also a basketball assistant who was on staff for last year’s state championship run by the Red Devils, agreed that realignment never pleases everyone and said Jacksonville was willing to play the slate it is handed.

“We’re going to go with whatever way we’re set,” Wilson said.

Taylor said the vote, whether pleasing everyone or not, was at least fair and involved the right people.

“We’re the most democratic organization in the state,” Taylor said. “We let the schools vote on what they want and they’ve spoken.”