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July 16, 2014

Notebook: Three Thoughts for Wednesday

Today's notebook includes a look at a new proposal being made in Arkansas high school football, where the Hogs stand with their running back recruiting efforts, and thoughts on the opening weekend of college football.

1. New proposal is bad for Arkansas high school football

Next month, high schools in Arkansas will vote on something that, if approved, will be a step in the wrong direction for high school football in the Natural State.

Every spring, the Arkansas Activities Association sends out a survey to high school administrators across the state. This year someone came up with an idea to move the high school football schedule up one week beginning in 2016. Surprisingly, the idea (which no one seems to be claiming as their own) has received enough approval by the AAA and those who participated in the spring survey to now move on as a proposal that will be voted on at the AAA's annual meeting in Little Rock on August 6.

According to El Dorado head coach and Arkansas Football Coaches Association President Scott Reed, coaches throughout the state are hoping the proposal is shot down.

"Every football coach I have talked to is totally against it," Reed said. "I've had a lot of calls and emails from coaches around the state, and I haven't had a single one who is supportive of this proposal. I was at Shiloh's 7-on-7 last weekend and I spoke with (Springdale Har-Ber head coach) Chris Wood, (Springdale head coach) Shane Patrick, and (Fayetteville head coach) Darryl Patton. Every coach they've talked to has been against it. They're all against it. As a group of high school football coaches, we don't want it to happen. Parents don't want it to happen, and kids, I guarantee you, don't want it to happen."

Here are a few reasons coaches are taking a strong stance against the plan:

  • Player Safety - It's a huge topic right now at every level, as it should be. This year, the first high school game in Arkansas will be played on September 1. Moving the season up a week means in some years a season opener could be played as early as August 19. It's no secret that it's hot in Arkansas in early September, and it's even hotter in mid-to-late August.

    This past year was the first in over a decade that there wasn't a single heat-related death in high school football across the nation. That's a step in the right direction. Coaches and athletes are more educated than ever when it comes to hydration and avoiding heat illness. Why risk taking a step back by playing games in hotter temperatures than you're already dealing with?

  • Practice time - The new proposal would move the entire season up a week, but that doesn't mean teams will be able to start their team camps a week earlier. That week of preparation would just be erased.

    The addition of spring ball and more 7-on-7 football in the summer has greatly benefited high school football in the state of Arkansas over the last decade or so. Again, if the overall product has improved and progress is being made by spending more time on the field, it makes no sense to take a step back by subtracting a week of opportunities to be on the field.

    The NCAA is allowed 29 preseason practices in the fall, and 25 of those can be in full pads. There are restrictions on how often a college program can conduct full-on scrimmages, which is fine; coaches aren't lobbying for more live contact practices. But taking away from the limited amount of practice opportunities they do have certainly is not the answer.

    Sure, heat is a great concern during the current camps in the middle of summer, but the rules in place already limit teams' consecutive contact days, and as Reed states, "It doesn't matter what you do practice-wise, it's not the same as game speed. When we go hard one day in practice, we're not going to go hard again the next day in this heat, and we're going to limit the minutes we're on the field."

    One of the other proposals being voted on next month would trim teams' full-padded practice opportunities down to just three days a week, and that would include the weekly Friday night games. In other words, a team would be limited to less than ten full-padded practices before playing its first game of the season.

    "It takes a certain amount of time to get a team ready to play a ballgame," Reed said. "It takes a certain amount of practice opportunities. A lot of kids have to play both ways at some of these smaller schools with less numbers. When you cut a week out of preparation and you're playing in the heat, it just doesn't make sense."

  • Money - Under the current format, the Class 5A, 6A and 7A state title games take place on the first weekend of December while the 2A, 3A and 4A play their championship games on the second weekend of the month.

    Moving the schedule up a week means the 5A, 6A and 7A championship games would fall on Thanksgiving weekend, which also happens to be college football's rivalry weekend. This would result in lower attendance, which obviously means less revenue for both schools involved in the title game.

    "Honestly, if you talk to coaches around the state I think they'd say it's a big deal to play in December," Reed said. "I think that should be the goal of every team in the state, because if you're playing in December you're probably playing for a title. To me, whether it's cold or sleeting or whatever, we've all played in that some. We don't have it like the schools up north where they have bad cold weather earlier than us, but we do have real heat down here.

    "The way we do it right now, doing it in the first and second weeks of December, it's not conflicting with college. They're not there, they're not playing, so we have center stage. That means we have more attendance and more money is going into the programs."

    2. Thomas may have a problem

    Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas may have a problem on his hands, but it's a good problem to have.

    No, I'm not talking about how he's going to divide the carries between Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall this season. His 'problem' is that he's already got one running back commitment for the Class of 2015 in Rawleigh Williams, and there are a few very good candidates the Hogs have a realistic shot at landing in the other running back slot. Which one it will be is still up in the air.

    Karan Higdon of Sarasota (Fla.) Riverview told us earlier this week that there's an "80 percent" chance he'll flip from South Florida if his unofficial in Fayetteville goes well later this month.

    Meanwhile, Patrick Carr of The Woodlands (Texas) told us last week that Arkansas is at the top of his list, but he won't get his first glimpse of Fayetteville until later this fall when he starts taking his official visits.

    Charles West of Coppell (Texas) is still very much in the picture, as well. He has visited Arkansas a couple of times already, and the last time he was on campus he left with his first SEC offer, which he said had him contemplating a commitment.

    And then there's Reggie Gallaspy of Greensboro (N.C.) Souther Guilford. Unlike the others, who are all considered speedy home run threats, Gallaspy is more of a traditional Bret Bielema-type of back at 5-10, 217. But he's very, very good. He'll be on Arkansas' campus on July 23.

    It'll be interesting to see how this plays out for Running Back U.

    3. Opening weekend will be a good one

    The start of the 2014 college football season is about six weeks away, but the opening weekend will be worth waiting for.

    It begins on Thursday, August 28 when South Carolina opens up at home against the Texas A&M Aggies and Ole Miss takes on Boise State in Atlanta. Carolina and A&M would have been a much more fun matchup with Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel on the field, but we'll take it anyway.

    Friday night's slate isn't much to look at, but if you like defense you can enjoy the Michigan State Spartans beating up on Jacksonville State.

    Saturday's schedule is just awesome. West Virginia and 'Bama at 2:30 p.m., Arkansas-Auburn at 3, Clemson at Georgia at 4:30, Florida State and Oklahoma State at 7 p.m., and then the day is capped off with Wisconsin vs. LSU at 8.

    There's football on Sunday, too, as SMU goes to Baylor. On Monday, you can either check out Arkansas commit Deon Stewart and Arkansas target Avery Johnson when Highland plays Midland Christian (Texas) at Razorback Stadium, or you can stay home and watch Miami take on Bobby Petrino and the Louisville Cardinals at 7 p.m.

    Not a bad first weekend of football.

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