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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Private equity

Forgive us a moment for sports April 15, 2021 at 3:07 a.m.

The legislation before the General Assembly officially known as state House Bill 1097 is a poor little weak thing of only one page. But it is apparently clothed with awful and unsuspected power unseen at first glance. This one-page, 33-line bill is powerful enough to take on football, private schools, and integrity in this state, not to mention truth, justice and the American Way--not necessarily in that order.

The bill says very simply, even simplistically, that the Arkansas Activities Association "shall create" two conference systems for public and private schools.

That got everybody's attention, or at least the attention of those who follow sports in Arkansas, but we repeat ourselves.

Divorcing public and private schools in Arkansas would have several likely effects. First, more public schools would start winning more competitive sports titles. Second, it wouldn't give the private schools anybody to play with. (Or against.)

In other states, the private school system is so extensive that separating from public schools on the football field or baseball diamond or gym or pitch isn't a problem. In Arkansas, it might mean long travels for private school athletes--to Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and points beyond.

The papers say that the state House of Representatives is scheduled to hold a committee hearing on HB1097 today. But earlier this week, as if an occult hand, the AAA released a plan that it hopes will make for more balanced competition.

It's called The Competitive Equity Factor plan/guide/rule. According to the Sports section, it "creates a system in which private schools could either move up or down a classification depending on their performance over the span of the previous four seasons." This plan could start next year, and the four-year span would be applied retroactively.

Mitchell Gladstone explains some of the rule changes in his story:

"The formula created by the AAA awards points to a team based on results in a given season. If a team ends with a winning conference record, it would earn one point. A state playoff win is worth two, a state finals appearance worth three and a state championship four.

"A team could accumulate a maximum of four points for a given season. For example, Pulaski Academy's football team would have tallied four points in each of its state title-winning seasons (2017, 2019, 2020) and three points when it finished as runner-up to Little Rock Christian in 2018 for a four-year cycle.

"That total of 15 points over four seasons would be more than enough to push the Bruins up a classification, making them a Class 6A team rather than a 5A team.

"Any team that compiles 10 points or more over such a span would be labeled 'dominant' and moved up, and any team that earns two or fewer--meaning they finish with a losing record in at least two of four seasons--would go down a classification as a 'noncompetitive' side."

The plan would also allow for schools to compete in different classifications for different sports. Another good idea.

Other states have taken similar action to balance out their private schools' ability to offer scholarships and recruit. (Of course, that would never happen here.) Public schools have to take kids from inside its boundary lines, mostly. But private schools can pick up students from around the region, or even beyond.

This gives some private schools All-Star Teams, and gives heartburn to students, athletes, alum and parents at those public schools that can't field such teams.

This proposal by the AAA has been a long time coming. Grumbling in the stands on Friday Night Lights has almost become tradition. Creating more balance between all the various teams and squads and line-ups and rosters will lead to less of it. And such a major change in Arkansas sports didn't even take an Act of Congress.

Only a small threat of a bill from the General Assembly.

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