Friday, February 17, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville gets shafted with 5 seed

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville basketball teams begin play in the 6A-East District tournament today. By the wisdom of the state’s bi-yearly rule makers, the tournament will consist of only one team the Titans have played in a conference game all year.

And with the dizzying intellect of Vizzini, those same rule makers put no rules - at all - in place for how to seed a conference tournament made up of teams from four different conferences.

That left Wednesday’s meeting of 6A-East athletic directors looking more like a marketplace bargaining squabble in a Monty Python film than typical tournament planning.

The Jacksonville teams, especially the boys, lost that squabble.

The Lady Titans settle for a seven seed and will play at Marion at 2 p.m. today. The Jacksonville boys, who entered the meeting believing a three seed would be in order, ended up with a five seed, behind two teams it beat twice, and will have to play at four seeded Hall at 4 p.m. today.

Pine Bluff, the other team Jacksonville defeated twice, got the three seed, and will host Mountain Home.

How and why did this happen?

Teams from every classification except 7A had to play its regular-season conference games against teams that would not necessarily be in their conference tournaments. That by itself is ridiculous enough. To make it worse is the fact that no statewide rules were put in place for how to seed the district tournaments once all these teams from different conferences came together.

It was Jacksonville’s impression going into Wednesday that only the games against the teams in the tournament would count towards seeding, Jacksonville and Hall played three times, twice in conference games. The Titans beat Hall in the Coke Classic by four points. They lost at Hall by one point, and then beat Hall by 14 at JHS last Friday.

Other conferences, like the 5A-Central, which contains four teams Jacksonville played in its regular-season conference, are only counting games against other 5A-Central teams when they meet to set their tournament seeds today.

But on Wednesday, JHS athletic director Jerry Wilson was confronted with the argument that since Hall had the better record in the regular-season conference games against six teams that aren’t even in this tournament, it should get the higher seed.

Wilson said the Arkansas Activities Association was contacted to settle the dispute, and the records were given first consideration.

The issue is further confused by the girls’ tournament, where records were apparently only a secondary consideration to, as yet, still unexplained criteria.

Case in point: the Searcy girls carried a conference record of 2-11 into the meeting and ended up with a higher seed than 4-9 Jacksonville.

But back to the boys. It was unclear going in whether or not the Jacksonville’s two-game sweep of Pine Bluff would warrant consideration, since they weren’t technically conference games. Jacksonville beat Pine Bluff 69-64 at PBHS, and again 61-51 at home.

It was decided those games did not matter. So the Titans are now seeded behind two teams they went a combined 4-1 against this season.

Instead of a single-site tournament, the 6A-East elected to play their tournament games at the home gym of the higher seed, which means the strange seeding cost the Titans a home game.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner, like every other coach questioned about the format for this cycle, does not like this system, and thinks his team got a raw deal.

“It’s a farce – a joke,” said Joyner. “It’s the worst thing the triple-A (Arkansas Activities Association, i.e. the rule makers) has ever come up with. It doesn’t make any sense to anybody in the state that I’ve talked to. We’re behind two teams we beat twice, and now we have to play on their home court.

“We just have to deal with it. The kids still have to come out and play. That’s all you can do. So it really doesn’t matter to me. But as far as injustice and fairness, it’s really not fair.”

Joyner is right. Furthermore, for an organization that call itself a “governing body”, it did not govern at all in this matter. Making up a farcical system and then offering no rules on how to organize that system for competition is, at best, incompetence, and at worst, plain laziness.

But all is not lost for the Titans, even if they lose today. Since six teams from each conference advance to state, a first-round loss would not mean the end of the season for Jacksonville. If they lose, they will likely host Searcy on Tuesday in an elimination game. Searcy plays 26-0 and nationally 14th ranked Jonesboro in the first round.

In the bottom half of the bracket, the winner of West Memphis (2) vs. Mountain Home (7) will play the winner between Pine Bluff (3) and Marion (6).

Jonesboro was also the top seed in the girls tournament and will host Hall. That winner will play either West Memphis (4) or Pine Bluff (5). Jacksonville (7) or Marion (2) will play Mountain Home (3) or Searcy (6) in the second round.