On the last day of July, superintendents representing the member schools of the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) voted by a margin of 141-68 to approve Proposition 9 that will drastically restructure the classification of non-football sports. The new rules change will take effect with the start of the 2018-2020 cycle.
The modification passed by the narrowest of margins. The AAA requires a two-thirds majority to pass any new legislation. The 141 affirmative votes amounted to 67.4% of all ballots cast, with seven schools not voting. Just two more negative votes could have sidelined the measure.
“Any time you’re talking classifications, some schools are going to be for it because they think it can help them, and some schools are going to be against it and be passionate about it,” said Lance Taylor, AAA Executive Director and former boys head basketball coach at Greenwood. “Every school would like to be the biggest school in their classification,” he added.
There are currently seven athletic classifications among Arkansas high schools, and Prop 9 will not change the existing structure for football. But starting with the 2018 school year, non-football sports will move to six classifications. The 16 largest schools (currently Class 7A) will become 6A, the next 32 largest schools will comprise 5A, the next 48 will be in 4A, with all remaining schools evenly distributed between 3A, 2A, and A.
The move will eliminate the present system of blended conferences for non-football sports such as basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball, and soccer. For the upcoming school year, the Greenwood Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs will continue to compete in conferences made up of both 6A and 5A schools.
When the rule change goes into effect, Greenwood will join the newly restructured Class 5A in all sports except for football. This will help to level the competition between larger and smaller schools and cut down on travel expenses for most schools.
While Prop 9 may help to alleviate some travel concerns, it doesn’t appear to impact the athletic competition for Greenwood, since all of the current 6A schools will also be moving down to Class 5A.
Greenwood Superintendent John Ciesla had this to say about the new measure: “I know many coaches around the state expressed concern regarding the seeding of conference tournament under our current classification system. While travel was reduced for most schools in the current cycle, I understand the difficulty in seeding teams for a conference tournament when you haven’t had an opportunity to play them or see them compete.
“I commend Lance Taylor and the AAA staff for being responsive to schools’ concerns and for meeting with every superintendent in the state to come up with a proposal that attempts to balance travel and competitive fairness. I believe Proposal 9 will eliminate the need for conference tournaments, keep travel at a reasonable level, and give all schools an opportunity to be competitive. It’s my hope that this model will stick, because it has been difficult adjusting to a new classification system every two years.”
Greenwood Athletic Director Dustin Smith said, “Proposal 9 was controversial to some schools. [Greenwood] will have our same conference schedule for football, [but] the other sports will [no longer] play in the blended conferences, and will instead be part of the make-up of four different 8-team conferences across the state.
“Since we are the smallest school in 6A, this new alignment will put us in the middle of the pack [in 5A]. We will always compete no matter what the classification, that’s one thing you can always count on. I look forward to seeing how the new alignment works out.”