New Territory Awaits as Post-Season Looms in 1st Blended Conference Season for Basketball
Chris Babb

Believe it or not, the basketball season for varsity high school teams is winding down. Next week signals the final week of the regular season before District Tournament play starts the week of February 13.

With this time of year brings a lot of scoreboard watching as teams try to figure out where they will fall in the final conference standings in preparation for their post-season runs. And while the excitement that this time of year brings for players, coaches and fans is normal, the post-season picture this time around is anything but that.

The 2016-17 seasons for basketball, baseball, softball and soccer are the first seasons under the “blended conference” model adopted by the Arkansas Activities Association. For more detailed information on the blended conference ideas, click here for a brief recap from APSD Athletics Facebook page or here for a Daily Siftings Herald article on the concept.

With regards to post-season play, the blended conference model allowed each conference to determine how it would seed its teams for the District tournament, which determines which four teams will advance to the Regional Tournament.

Some options to determine seeding were:
-- count regular season games and seed based on record

-- conduct a poll of coaches, administrators, media members or others who observed teams play over the course of a season

-- have the league’s coaches sit around a table at the end of the season and seed the tournament based on regular season results.

Without having every team play each other, the administrators of the 4A-7 wanted to avoid the scenario of coaches sitting around a table to lobby for seeding, hopefully eliminating some subjectivity from the process.

Rather, the league decided to count regular season games in which teams played each other and split the league’s teams into two divisions for the 4A-7 district tournaments. The way the blended conferences were set up, the 8 member schools of the 4A-7 were split up into three blended conferences. Bauxite and Robinson were in one blended league; Arkadelphia, Malvern and Fountain Lake were in the 3A/4A-8 together; and Ashdown, Mena and Nashville were in a blended league together.

A compromise was made to allow Bauxite and Robinson to be assigned to one of the “groups of three” for 2016-17 and the schools would switch groups for 2017-18. Bauxite and Robinson would play each of the other three members one time while the others three members would already be playing each other twice due to the blended conference schedule.

Because there would only be one game with either Bauxite or Robinson, the league decided that the second game between members of the same blended conference would count for seeding purposes. Therefor there is only a three-game sample on which teams will be seeded. The consensus of the league’s administrators was that a small sample was better than having coaches sit around a table and subjectively seed a tournament when teams may not have played each other at all.

For the District Tournament, the “West” and “East” Divisions will be seeded 1-4 and a bracket will be formed similar to that of the Regional Tournament with 1 playing 4 and 2 playing 3. The winners of the first round games advance to the Regional and finish the District Tournament bracket for Regional seeding purposes.

Now that all of that is clear as mud, we get back to the current situation with the last week of the season upon us with the final games to be played for seeding purposes. The current standings for the 4A-7 are as follows:

GIRLS
EAST                            WEST
Bauxite 2-0                   Nashville 2-0
Malvern 1-0                  Robinson 1-1
Arkadelphia 1-1            Ashdown 1-1
Fountain Lake 0-3        Mena 0-2

BOYS
EAST                            WEST
Bauxite 2-0                   Robinson 2-0
Arkadelphia 1-1            Ashdown 1-1
Fountain Lake 1-2        Mena 1-1
Malvern 0-1                  Nashville 0-2

The Badgers and Lady Badgerseach have stellar records in the 3A/4A-8 blended conference with both teams standing at 10-2 to this point. Those are great records in the blended league, but when it comes down to it, the only three games that affect post-season seeding are the losses at Bauxite, Tuesday night’s wins at home against Fountain Lake, and this Friday night’s games at Malvern.

Next week will feature the two remaining blended conference games on Tuesday and Friday and a newly-rescheduled makeup game at Harmony Grove on Thursday, January 9.

All of which will lead up to the 4A-7 District Tournament which will begin on Monday, February 13, at Nashville High School. With only a three-game sample, there is a chance that a higher seed may not be playing a “true” lower seed, so the first round games of the District Tournament will be filled with intrigue. Playing yourbest at the end of the season is important every season, but with such little margin of error this season, playing well at the right time of the year may be more important this year than ever.