Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SPORTS>>Cabot in need of calculator

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

With two games left in the regular season, some people in the 7A/6A-Central don’t like the way things are adding up.

While football coaches in the 7A classification, including Cabot coach Mike Malham, are beginning to crunch the numbers that affect playoff seeding, Van Buren has filed a lawsuit over those same numbers.

On Friday, the school district and board of directors of Van Buren, Cabot’s opponent this week, filed a suit in the circuit court of Crawford County against the Arkansas Activities Association citing inconsistencies with conference classifications and the way playoff berths and seeds are determined.

The AAA, the governing body of high school sports, realigned the 7A and 6A conferences for the current two-year cycle and implemented a power rating to determine playoff seeding.

Because of travel burdens, the 7A and 6A schools agreed early last year to be grouped in the same conferences during the regular season and to be separated into their respective classifications, which are based on enrollment numbers, for the playoffs.

Van Buren was reclassified from 7A to 6A and is one of two such teams that play in the 7A-heavy Central Conference. West Memphis, on the other hand, is one of two 7A teams playing mostly 6A schools in the 7A/6A-East.

Among other things the power rating grants points to 6A teams for 7A teams played, which gets to the heart of Van Buren’s suit.

Initially the plan was for both non-conference and conference games with 7A schools to count toward a 6A team’s power rating, but without Van Buren’s and Russellville’s knowledge the process was changed to count only conference games.

Van Buren could be contending for a top seed in 6A, but with the unforeseen change in the points system the Pointers are now closer to a third seed.

The reclassification has already seen one challenge, an appeal by 6A school Searcy that was approved in a 23-9 vote by the 7A and 6A schools before the season.

That kept Van Buren in the 7A/6A Central but moved 6A schools Little Rock Hall, Little Rock Parkview and Little Rock Fair to the 7A/6A-East, with Searcy, and moved 7A schools Cabot, Bryant and North Little Rock in into the 7A/6A-Central with Van Buren.

However Van Buren (6-2, 3-2) has held its own against the 7A talent. The fewest points the team has scored this year is 26 and Malham, who has been trying to sort out the tie-breaker system in his own conference, knows his defense will have its hands full.

“They’re not the same team. They’re a lot better this year,” Malham said. “They’ve scored lots of points. 

Twenty-six is the lowest point total they’ve put up and that was against Conway and Bryant, two pretty good teams.”

While focusing on Van Buren, Malham has had to think about Conway and Bryant too. Conway beat Cabot, Bryant beat Conway and Cabot beat Bryant in its last game Friday to form the “perfect triangle” of a three-way tie atop the Central.

That triggers the points tiebreaker, which tallies margin of conference victory points up to 13. If the season ended today, Bryant (43 points) and Conway (52) would have more points than Cabot (42) and Bryant would be the champion because it beat Conway.

But, Malham pointed out, there are still two games to play with more points to be earned and the possibility any or all three first-place teams could take another loss.

“If we all win out we’re tri-champs,” Malham said. “It’s the seeding and the playoffs, that’s what the points do.”

Then there is the West Memphis factor, Malham said. If the 7A Blue Devils win their final two 7A/6A-East games, beginning at Jacksonville on Friday, they will roll into the postseason as undefeated conference champions and take a No. 1 seed to the 7A.

Top-ranked Bentonville (7-0, 5-0) is the only other 7A team with a perfect conference record.

“West Memphis is going to be the one,” Malham said. “They still could get that bye.”

But resurgent Jacksonville could beat West Memphis in Jacksonville this week, and there are so many other things that could happen in the final two weeks Malham prefers to zero in on the real object of the game.


“We’re just trying to focus in on Van Buren, have a good week of practice,” Malham said of his banged up team that may have to go without workhouse running back Spencer Smith (shoulder) on Friday. 

“We’re not going to try to keep them out on the field too long. Body rest is important this time of year. If you’re still celebrating that win Friday night it’s going to cost you.”