Editor’s note: This is the final part of a two part look at the Arkansas high school football playoff system. Link here for the first part.
story by Aric Mitchell
In part one, we spoke with Don Brodell of the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) and Athletic Director Jim Rowland of Fort Smith Public Schools about the current state of the Arkansas high school football playoffs.
We were particularly interested in how an 0-10 team (LR Fair) could make it to the postseason at the 6A level, but our research also turned up several other teams with losing records throughout the state, who were honored with a playoff berth.
Now we give you our take.
Coaching and culture also have a lot to do with success. How well the students embrace a sport, any sport, as well as the qualifications of the team’s leaders — i.e. Coaching Staff — are too often dismissed as being irrelevant in how well a team actually does at the postseason level.
The 6A as well as Classifications 2A through 5A aren’t doing themselves any favors with the current system. Taking five teams out of a conference is as excessive and senseless as taking all 16 in a division. At the lower levels, it increases the risk of injury and takes additional class time away from students, who are either part of or having to play against a team that has no business in a playoff game in the first place.
At the 6A level, you cheapen the accomplishments of the winning team. And then at the 7A, you’ve got nothing but four weeks of byes and rematches from regular season play. It’s a mess no matter how you look at it. If this was truly about what’s best for the kids, then it would be geography and enrollment that matters most, in that order.
Does anyone really think it’s a good idea to put Siloam Springs in the same conference as Texarkana from a class time perspective? They’re five and a half hours away from each other one-way, yet next year, both will be in the 7A/6A West. (And Siloam Springs will be the only 6A team in that conference.)
No, this isn’t about what’s best for the kids. It’s about winning and losing, and it’s making a mockery of the system. It fosters a culture of rewarding failure, taking away from true accomplishment and making a few extra bucks off what are essentially kids.
Sure, many of them have the bodies of adults, but psychologically, they’re dealing with more stress than they’ve ever experienced in their lives, and some schools are choosing to exploit them during this time as if they were professional athletes.
The simple fact that 6A, the second highest classification in the state, was buried as the Friday evening game at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, is all the proof one needs to see what a disservice this is to what El Dorado accomplished in beating Lake Hamilton 24-20. They won a state title in a thrilling game, and it’s relegated to an afterthought.
It’s a state title.
It should mean as much as any of the other classifications’ titles do, but it doesn’t. Why not? Because El Dorado is at the top of a postseason mountain that includes two teams with a combined record of 1-19.
I’m not saying El Dorado isn’t a good football team. They are. I’m saying that because they’re a good football team, Little Rock Fair and Russellville’s inclusion in the playoffs is a slap in the face. There are teams at the 6A level that could compete in the 7A playoffs. No one expected Fayetteville to beat Bentonville Saturday after getting demolished 41-6 in the regular season by the Tigers.
You’re telling me El Dorado couldn’t have fared better than 41-6 against Bentonville? I don’t buy it. Maybe they don’t beat Fayetteville head-to-head, but I think when there is something important on the line, a 6A school is just as capable of rising to the occasion as the Bulldogs did in upsetting the nationally ranked Tigers 29-28. The 6A schools do it all the time during the regular season, so why not the playoffs?
The Varsity Wire agrees with Rowland, who stated in a recent interview: “The AAA is the governing body of all athletic and extracurricular activities. We’ve got capable people there, and it starts with Lance Taylor (director). In my opinion, we ought to give them the responsibility of doing what’s right for everybody. Our number one priority is academics. Let them determine what is best. If they determine the top 32 teams are better placed by geographic location and that that’s more important than the competitive level between enrollments, don’t appeal it, but accept it.”
We’re pretty sure Rowland knows what AAA would decide, and we do, too — geography. Why? Because it’s common sense and is clearly for the best interests of the student.
But as long as administrators are allowed to vote, expect high school football to continue its evolution into some kind of collegiate hybrid none of these kids can possibly be ready for at this point in their lives. Also, expect coaches to be judged on how many conference titles they win instead of the criteria that matters most — preparing their players for life after high school.