The Arkansas Activities Association will finalize some athletic rules changes in August. Most of the rules being proposed would take effect after the next realignment cycle in 2016.
One of the proposals up for vote is eliminating blended conferences for 7A and 6A schools. That would mean there would be two eight-team 7A and 6A conferences, with the top four schools in each reaching postseason play. It would mean fewer 7A and 6A postseason games.
“I think that’s a good rule,” Southside football coach Jeff Williams said. “There’s been talk about putting 5A and 6A together for a while. I remember back in ‘06, they took the top four, and I remember how hard it was to get into the playoffs. You feel like you really accomplished something getting to the playoffs. Now, in 6A, everyone goes.”
Alma coach Doug Loughridge said he’s ready for some consistency in the playoff formats.
“I don’t care what they decide, I just want them to be consistent,” Loughridge said. “When I was at Russellville, that’s before Springdale and Rogers had two high schools, we would be the (No.) 4 seed and then go beat a (No.) 1 seed in the south. I think it would be better to go back to the way it was.
“I think playoffs need to mean something. Just like this, we could be 1-and-9 and make the playoffs. By that time of the year, if you’re on a team like that you would be ready for it to be over.”
The AAA hopes to eliminate blended conferences starting in 2016, when the next two-year realignment cycle takes place.
Basketball, baseball and softball would combine conferences in 6A and 5A before splitting into separate state tournaments. Small schools would also double up for basketball, baseball and softball, with 4A and 3A schools combining for the closest regional conference and 2A and Class A doing the same.
Like 6A and 5A, the smaller schools would compete in separate state tournaments — Mountainburg in 2A, Charleston in 3A and Ozark in 4A and so on.
“Regionally, we’re in favor of that,” Waldron football coach and athletics director Dale Mann said. “Right now, we’re racking up frequent-flyer miles on some of our trips. As an AD, I have to be concerned about the welfare of the kids, especially with spring sports. I can’t have kids driving three hours to Bauxite on Tuesday, knowing they’re going to be testing the next day.”
Mann said growth in Northwest Arkansas has forever changed the state’s sporting landscape.
“It’s hard to define the geographic boundaries,” he said.
For Waldron, Mann said a regional conference might include Booneville (3A), Mansfield (3A), Danville (3A), Dardanelle (4A) and Subiaco (4A). Waldron is also relatively close to Charleston, Paris and Lavaca.
Limiting Football Contact
One of the other rules up for debate would reduce full contact practice during football season to just three days per week. Williams and veteran coach Bobby Bolding were asked by the AAA to come up with a plan. Some like it, others aren’t so sure.
“I think it’s a good rule,” Williams said. “Most schools don’t go full pads on consecutive days. I talk to guys from smaller schools, including (Charleston coach) Greg Kendrick last week. They played all the way up to Christmas last year and that’s starting with a pretty heavy work load in July and August.
“In the 7A-West, because it’s so physical, you need your guys to be fresh. I always remember something (Oklahoma coach) Bob Stoops said one time — ‘If you get hurt in practice, it’s my fault, but if you get hurt during the game it’s God’s fault.’”
Loughridge isn’t sold on the plan yet.
“I think we need to look at that a little closer before we enact on something like that,” Loughridge said. “With all the things we do now with concussions and water breaks, I think we’re to the point now where you’re watering down your practices. Most coaches are pretty smart about the way they practice. Especially during the season, they’re not going to go all-out every day.”
Loughridge said some players play junior varsity games on Monday, meaning they may need a day or two of practice leading up to the week’s regular Friday game.
“A lot of times, you have kids who play on special teams on Friday night and if you’re going by the rule, that’s two (of the three) contact days,” Loughridge said. “You just have to be smart about it.”
Lavaca coach Mark Headley dresses his team in pads “once or twice a week” during the season.
“Coming from a small school, our numbers aren’t as big as the bigger schools” he said. “I never had anything against teams who hit, but with our limited numbers, with guys going both ways, we want to get our reps down without the heavy hitting.”