Cameron Smith

School sues Arkansas Activities Assn. over playoff system

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

The Van Buren (Ark.) High football team has put together a six-win regular season, with the possibility of eight wins by the end of the campaign. The Pointers currently hold a 3-2 conference record, a mark which would be good enough to earn a playoff bid in many states. It may not be in Arkansas, however, and now the Van Buren School District is suing the Arkansas Activities Association as a result.

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According to ArkansasVarsity.com and the Fort Smith (Ark.) Times Record, the Van Buren School District filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Crawford County against the AAA, claiming that the Pointers football program was discriminated against because of inconsistencies in conference classification, which determines playoff berths and seeds. Amazingly, this is the second consecutive year in which the AAA has been sued before the state playoffs. Class 3A school Lamar filed a suit against the association in 2009 after it was forced to forfeit five victories -- and miss qualifying for the playoffs as a result -- for using an inelgible player.

While it's unlikely that the suit will be heard before the state playoffs, Van Buren also requested an injunction against the AAA which would force the organization to include nonconference games in determining playoff eligibility, a consideration which is currently not part of the state's postseason formula.

At the root of Van Buren's claim is Arkansas' grouping of schools from different size classifications in the same conference. Van Buren is in the 6A/7A Central Conference as one of only two 6A schools. Because of that size disparity, the Pointers are forced to play all but one of their conference games against schools from a higher classification, with that record the largest determinant of whether or not they qualify for the state playoffs in the lower classification. According to ArkansasVarsity.com, Russellville, the other Class 6A school in the 7A/6A Central Conference, is also considering joining the Van Buren suit.

"Establishing a 6A and 7A classification and then requiring 6A teams to play 7A teams is inconsistent, and we think unfair," Van Buren superintendent Dr. Merle Dickerson told the Times Record. ... "Our kids play one 6A team," Dickerson said. "The rest of the conference games are 7A teams. Now, we're supposed to beat 7A teams to get to the 6A playoffs. The plan is questionable, not to mention how they changed all of that to begin with is suspect."

The Van Buren suit is also attacking the fairness of using power rankings rather than nonconference schedule to determine seeding for the playoffs. A new rule in 2010 called for playoff seeding to be determined by how a team performed when judged on a power rating, excluding the team's nonconference won-loss record. Yet Van Buren and Russellville both claim that they were unaware of the change in playoff formula until after the season had started.

Because the first- and second-seeded teams earn first-round byes -- and, of equal importance, home games in the second round -- Van Buren feels that any playoff berth it earns will not give the Pointers their best possible chance at a state title.

"The first plan for power ratings seem satisfactory to us at the time. That was all we could get at that point. Then the way it was changed is suspect. We think something is wrong with the process with the way they changed the power ratings."

There's no early indication on whether or not the Van Buren suit will be successful. If it is, then Kramer may have been right when he first warned the world not to mess with the Van Buren Boys ... unless you know their secret sign.

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