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Sen. Irvin wants AAA to explain handling of Nick Smith Jr. transfer case

Arkansas Athletics
NICK SMITH JR.

Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) wants the Arkansas Athletics Association to appear before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education committees to talk about its handling of an investigation into the eligibility of a high school basketball star.

Dedicated fans of Razorback basketball likely know the name Nick Smith Jr. ESPN ranks him as the No. 6 best high school player in the country, and he recently committed to play basketball at the University of Arkansas in what’s shaping up to be one of the school’s greatest recruiting classes. Smith transferred to North Little Rock High School this year after attending Sylvan Hills High School.

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In August, the AAA informed the North Little Rock School District that it had received a report of violations from the Pulaski County Special School District, of which Sylvan Hills is a part, the NLRSD said in a statement, obtained by KATV’s Marine Glisovic. Investigations followed and the AAA determined that North Little Rock had violated rules related to a “non-school coach” and recruitment. The school district appealed and a AAA subcommittee denied the appeal. According to the NLRSD, two further levels of appeal remain.

Meanwhile, Smith and his parents have been active on Twitter and KATV’s Steve Sullivan wrote a column arguing that Smith should get to play. If you care about high school basketball, that’s a popular argument to make: Smith would play alongside Kel’el Ware, a 7-foot tall center who is also one of the best basketball players in the country. (He’s headed to Oregon to play for Dana Altman, who coached the Razorbacks for about 5 minutes). North Little Rock would likely be very, very good with Smith and Ware together.

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Into all this steps Irvin, who has also asked Smith to appear before the committee.

No doubt this will be an entertaining spectacle if you care about high school sports, but A) it’s nuts to hold a legislative hearing over one high-profile eligibility case, and B) while the legislature may have some leeway over the AAA, at least as far the AAA’s regulation of public schools goes, it seems like a stretch that lawmakers could try to insert themselves into a private nonprofit’s rules and procedures.

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I’ve asked Lance Taylor, the organization’s executive director, and a AAA spokesman for comment and whether they plan to attend. I’ll update if I hear back.

Irvin told the Education committees today that she planned to consult with the state Education Department to determine whether it needed to appear at the meeting.

“I realize that he’s a more high-profile type, but he’s still a kid,” Irvin said of Smith. “I know this happens to kids in all schools across the state of Arkansas. I’d like to know more about this process, and how it’s investigated, how it’s enforced and how it’s determined.

“It breaks my heart to hear that any student is denied an opportunity to do something they love, because they only have once chance at high school.”

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Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh (R-Van Buren) told Irvin he didn’t understand what she was trying to do with the hearing. There are guidelines in place. They’ve gone over these things and studied them, he said.

“I’m trying to represent students and constituents,” Irvin said. “I think it’s our job and it’s our purview to understand how our students and how are constituents are affected by rules and regulations and how those are made and how those are carried out and how they’re enforced and how those are applied and if they’re applied equally and applied in the same manner.”

The hearing is scheduled after a meeting of the Legislative Council Thursday, which likely puts it sometime in the afternoon.