Whither Little Rock

The social media morons were out in force last Saturday and Sunday.

Blaming a stadium for a college football team’s loss rather than a lack of preparation and a lack of execution is a new one on me.

But, yes, let’s blame War Memorial Stadium, not the coaching staff or the players at the University of Arkansas for that Citadelesque loss to Toledo (or was it Akron? All those MAC teams look alike to me).

On the morning of the game, the state’s largest newspaper (I happen to write a weekly column for that newspaper) had a large headline on the front of the sports section that read “Countdown to zero” with an altered illustration of a half-empty War Memorial Stadium.

It was as if the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wanted to make the chance that the University of Arkansas will cease playing football games in Little Rock when the current contract expires at the end of 2018 a self-fulfilling prophecy.

No more Hog games in the capital city: That seems to have become the conventional wisdom, driven in part, I suspect, by the fact that the Razorbacks are now 1-5 in Little Rock since 2012 (and ignoring the fact that Arkansas has had a poor to mediocre football program since 2012).

I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion. The situation is, in fact, far more complex and fluid than the social media morons would have you believe.

I was a senior staffer in the governor’s office at the time of the original Great Stadium Debate (simply known as the GSD for you message board trolls) and was deeply involved in this issue. Just as was the case back then, the decision in 2018 will not be made by the athletic director in Fayetteville. It will be made by the members of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees since Razorback games in Little Rock are such a part of the cultural fabric of this state. It’s bigger than football.

Just last week, it was reported that even though the University of Arkansas has the largest freshman class in its history, the number of students from Arkansas is down.

The Democrat-Gazette reported: “Growth largely has been based on an influx of out-of-state students. This year’s freshman class of 4,916 students continues the trend with 51 percent arriving from outside Arkansas. The size of the freshman class increased by about 7.5 percent compared with last year’s 4,571. UA spokesman Laura Jacobs said the university counted 15,237 students from the state. This is a decrease from the 15,329 Arkansans counted in the university’s 11th day enrollment report from fall 2014.”

Imagine that. The majority of students in the freshman class at the state’s flagship university are from outside of Arkansas. And that’s in a state that badly needs more of its high school residents obtaining college degrees (former Gov. Mike Beebe set a goal of doubling the number of college graduates in Arkansas by 2025).

If this trend continues, members of the board will have to take a strong look at whether the university still appeals to young people in places like east Arkansas and south Arkansas. Many Arkansans already are referring to the school as the University of DFW at Fayetteville due to the influx of Texans. Playing Razorback football games in Little Rock traditionally has been a part of the university’s strategy to connect with families who live far from the northwest Arkansas campus.

No one argues that the athletic department makes more money by playing games in Fayetteville. The numbers speak for themselves. Athletic directors must be concerned with things like that. Members of the board, however, are appointed to 10-year terms by the governor to look at the big picture. And the big picture is starting to play in favor of keeping at least one game a year at War Memorial Stadium as an outreach to families in other parts of Arkansas.

There are a number of misconceptions spread by the social media morons.

Let’s address a few of them:

  1. I read over and over that “no one does this anymore,” meaning the idea of giving up a game on campus to play somewhere else. Huh? We’ll just look at schools in this part of the country. Oklahoma and Texas still play each other every year at the old Cotton Bowl in Dallas because it’s a tradition. Georgia and Florida still play each other each year in Jacksonville, Fla., because it’s a tradition. Could there be a stronger tradition than the Razorbacks playing at least once conference game a year in Little Rock for 78 consecutive seasons prior to this year? Texas A&M will play games in both Houston and Arlington, Texas, this season. Auburn opened its season in Atlanta. Alabama opened its season in Arlington. North Carolina and South Carolina opened their seasons in Charlotte. Tennessee opened its season in Nashville. Missouri tried to play last Saturday’s game against Arkansas State in St. Louis. The Tigers played Illinois in St. Louis in 2002-03 and from 2007-10. The bottom line is that playing games away from campus is now becoming more of a trend, not less of one.
  2. I also read about the financial hit the athletic department is taking each time the Razorbacks play in Little Rock. The huge amount of money that Southeastern Conference schools are now receiving for television rights (the SEC Network has been successful beyond even the most optimistic predictions) make actual per-game revenue a smaller part of the overall athletic department budget than ever before. In other words, Arkansas can easily afford to make a little less money in Little Rock than it would make in Fayetteville if playing in Little Rock on one or two Saturdays each fall better advances the overall goals of the university. Bottom line: Per-game revenue is just not as big an issue as it once was.
  3. People point to the annual conference game against Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington as a complicating factor. I don’t see it. There’s no reason the Hogs can’t continue to play at Jerry Jones’ palace while also playing at least one game (and maybe two in some years) at Little Rock. If the choice did have to be made between Arlington and Little Rock, members of the board would need to ask themselves this question: “Is it more important to the overall goals of the university to have a game each year in an adjoining state or in the largest city of the state where the university is located?”
  4. To those who claim that “nobody else is doing it,” I would at least request that they be consistent. Here’s what “nobody else is doing” in the SEC these days with the exception of Arkansas: Refusing to play in-state opponents. LSU was going to open the season this year with McNeese State before lightning forced the game to be called off. Auburn was taken to overtime last Saturday in its game against Jacksonville State, which is just 108 miles from Auburn campus. Mississippi State opened its season at Southern Mississippi. Georgia will close its season as always against Georgia Tech. It’s high time for Arkansas and Arkansas State to play each other on an annual basis.

A friend who has decades of experience in the world of Arkansas football recently laid out his “dream scenario” at a time when so many are predicting that college football is about to become a thing of the past at War Memorial Stadium. He said he can see the day when:

— UALR starts a football program (it’s already in a football conference, the Sun Belt, and has an athletic director from a football family) and plays its home games at War Memorial Stadium.

— Little Rock finally gets that bowl game it was so close to landing a few months ago.

— A coalition of legislators from northeast, southeast, southwest and central Arkansas pass legislation mandating that Arkansas and Arkansas State play each other in football each year at War Memorial Stadium.

I don’t see all of that happening.

But I do see the UA trustees taking into consideration more than just the football program when it comes time to renegotiate the contract with the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

I like Bret Bielema personally. I like Jeff Long. They’ve been nothing but nice to me. And I have good friends on both sides of this issue. I simply want what is best for the university and the state as a whole.

It all comes down to this: At a time when Arkansans now represent a minority of the freshman class at the University of Arkansas, there’s far more than the wants and needs of the athletic department to consider.

12 Responses to “Whither Little Rock”

  1. Jeff Necessary says:

    Rex, we’ve agreed to disagree on many things for many years (OBU vs HSU being only one of those). But your tendency to shill for central Arkansas in all things is getting the better of you here. For one thing, where the UA gets its student body is completely irrelevant to this discussion. UA is far from the only school with a lot of out of state students (Alabama’s freshman class last year was 67% non-Alabamans, for example). And, since the academic standards are lower for in-state kids than for imports, those out of state students are not taking spots away from Arkansans.

    Furthermore, those inside and outside the stadium in Little Rock on Saturday did not exactly cover themselves in glory, and I say that as an occupant of Section 7 that day. Drunken brawls on the golf course (seen worldwide instantly on those same social media) and doing the wave while an injured player is being placed on a backboard just make me cringe.

    As a UA alum, my view of an annual UA-ASU game is not only no but hell no. It intrigues me that with your conservative bent, you are advocating that our legislature mandate a near-socialist redistribution of athletic income from Fayetteville to Jonesboro. Because that’s really what we’re talking about here. ASU partisans want UA to give them an annual financial boost that they’re incapable of giving themselves.

  2. Jeff Necessary says:

    One more thing: What we saw on West Markham Saturday does not help the case of anyone who argues for a continued Razorback presence at WMS, much less an expanded presence. And, let’s face it, an expanded presence is not happening. Neither, in my opinion, are any more Little Rock games after 2018.

  3. michael simons says:

    It was sad to see the place trashed like what I have seen on line. I loved going to games in the Rock and I attended many from 1983 till 1991. But it time to move them to the hill cause the players and staff doesn’t have the passion or love for the old gray lady that we had in the past.

  4. Mike McNeill says:

    And hey Rex, don’t forget NCAA Division II offsite games, either. Southern Arkansas will play Ouachita Baptist in the Murphy USA Classic Game on Saturday, October 17 at Memorial Stadium in El Dorado. I’m not wild about it. The Murphy USA Classic – formerly the Boomtown Classic – is in its seventh year. SAU has played four previous times at the Classic and lost each time: 17-6 to Arkansas-Monticello in the inaugural 2009 game, 28-23 to UAM in 2010, 23-20 to Harding in 2012, and 55-41 to Henderson State in 2014. But as you say – for SAU and the other GAC schools that have served as the home team, there are other issues involved, such as being seen by a different audience and helping with PR and recruitment in a broader sense. SAU isn’t making any money off football anyway, so its games have to serve a broader purpose. The Great American Conference also has a truly irritating habit of playing basketball, baseball and softball championships at locations nowhere near a member school but again, I suppose it suits the GAC’s scheme of things..

  5. William Collins says:

    So let’s address your misconceptions as well:
    1) the places you point out as where other teams play are in much better shape than WMS as well as most are in key recruiting areas for the teams that play there. While LR used to be a key cog to Arkansas recruiting, we have seen the level of HS football drop to where only a couple of players a year are now good enough to warrant a football scholarship.
    2) Your logic is flawed here. Would a company move to a facility even if it cost them a little money just because it makes good money elsewhere. The point is the university competes already at a disadvantage from the money making machines that are Alabama, LSU and etc so why would we want to disadvantage them at all by requiring them to play in the dump that WMS has become.
    3) No question the Arlington game should be deemed more important; money, recruiting and national exposure all favor Jerry’s world.
    4) The Arkansas football minds should determine who and where the hogs play, I am sure that our legislators have more important items to consider than a football game. Let’s allow them to focus on jobs, education and poverty instead of football.

  6. Rick Fahr says:

    Rex, those are strong words for you, but I agree with the vast majority of them.

    I have long advocated a two-game kickoff event in War Memorial Stadium each year involving the Razorbacks, Red Wolves, Bears and another state school on a rotating basis. Imagine the revenue going not to the schools but to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The ancillary revenue in hotel rooms booked and meals sold would be a tremendous boon to Central Arkansas.

  7. frank on the hill says:

    holy toledo! the razorbacks should stop playing at the $500 million stadium in fayetteville. their loss last night has to be the fault of the stadium doesn’t it? what else could it be? we all know the hogs had superior athletes and coaching in the first two losses this year so, it had to be the stadium and the fans in fayetteville just as it was the cause for the loss in little rock last week. i bet there were even some drunk fans out there showing out and making appearances on youtube. i’m sure the contributors who have offered their opinions here are good people. i don’t think they are capable of having their own individual thoughts when it comes to all things arkansas razorbacks. they have had hogs, hogs, hogs beat in their heads since childhood.

    these are the same people who had counted these first two losses as wins while making their pre-season predictions of 8 or 9 wins. i say “first two losses” because there are going to be many more losses to come this year. so, here we are with the same record as the arkansas state indians(red wolves). the difference is that arkansas state suffered their two losses at the hands of highly respected and successful athletic programs, while the razorbacks were defeated by teams that were scheduled because they are in NO way considered to be top tier teams. hog fans who are of multi-dimensional reasoning ability, recognize these teams were scheduled because they were deemed to be “cupcakes”. you “fans” who think this way have now had your season ruined. fans like myself see it for what it is and understand that when you schedule “cupcakes” you sometimes get bit on your butts. your kind of thinking reminds me of the playground bullies back in elementary school. they always picked on the weak and meek and then walked around with their chest stuck out. the problem was, every so often, one of the weak or meek would kick the crap out of the bullies. that’s where the razorback football program is today.

    stop being scared to play arkansas state. who cares if they beat us once or twice every ten years? we’re getting beat by much lesser teams on a regular basis now. you need to think about how these first two losses hurt the reputation of our program across the nation. if we had lost to an in-state program such as arkansas state, it would just be reported as so-and-so won the arkansas in-state rivalry this year just as it is in all of the other states where these games take place. it’s good for the state and good for the teams involved.

    i’m sure these same fans are furious about the comments made by kliff kingsbury about coach B after the game last night. you shouldn’t be. coach B brought that on himself by making the comments he made earlier this year. coach B is probably regretting those words today. i kind of thought the comments of the texas tech coach were hilarious and appropriate.

    so, here we are hog fans. we’re 1-2 and we haven’t even played a nationally respected team yet. we are a mid-level SEC team at best. let’s recognize a stadium doesn’t determine how players play. at this level, players give it all they have no matter where they play. sometimes they just get outplayed. let’s keep at least one game in little rock and i think one of those games should be against arkansas state. good job rex! go hogs!

  8. Spicoli says:

    Well, Arkansas is not a very good team. However, your logic is flawed. Neither of those teams are worse than ASU. Furthermore, 73,000 showed up to watch it vs 40 something thousand in LR. I am all for a game in LR. However, LR had a chance to upgrade facilties and chose not to. The place is a dump. ASU spends far more tax dollars to support a football team that typically plays in front of less than 25,000 than they generate in revenues. Why should the UofA provide additional support? Build your program on your own.

  9. frank on the hill says:

    class…anyone…anyone? and 73,000 left pissed off, beat down and won’t return unless the razorbacks put together a winning streak. hog fans actually suck overall. real fans show up no matter what the record is. if you are correct in stating that neither of those teams is worse than arkansas state, then maybe the hogs could have played them and won. as far as “building your own program”, the hogs have built theirs by playing cupcakes to rack up some wins. take away the cupcakes over the past ten years and see where they are. that may be considered “building a program” in a state where that’s all we got, but not very impressive on the national scene. i’ve never been able to figure out why razorback fans are scared to play arkansas state and that’s really what it comes down to. please stop using that crap about “build your own program” or “we have nothing to gain” by playing them. we may have nothing to gain, but we sure have a lot to lose when we get beat by the likes of HOLY TOLEDO and THE RED RAIDERS. do you realize in the state of texas, comparing texas tech to the university of texas is like comparing arkansas tech to the university of arkansas. if you folks who think this way are so confident in our program, why not just line up against the indians(red wolves) and kick some butt. i suspect some of you “fans” who are writing here, are offering your own tickets to friends, family or work associates so you don’t have to sit through some more of this class 3A football our program is putting out. we suck in our conference. look at coach B’s record here at arkansas. way under .500. why act like he’s a football genius? once again, arkansas is near the bottom of another list however, this time we can’t thank god for mississippi. think about that!

  10. Spicoli says:

    Have a nice time living in Jonesboro

  11. frank on the hill says:

    i think spicoli is still stoned. i’m in NWA(thus the name frank on the hill) and a HUGE razorback fan. i happen to have enough common sense to understand many people in this state have nothing to hang their hats on other than the razorback football team. i hope spicoli realizes that coach B has only won a couple of SEC games in two years. he may add one or two this year. and that victory over texas in the bowl game last year, i hope spicoli realizes that was a victory over a very distressed program. for some reason, many hog fans see a victory over the long horns, whether they are good or pitiful, as a huge victory. i’m not sure fans like spicoli understand that the arkansas/texas rivalry was way more important to hog fans than it was to texas fans. oklahoma was the real rival of texas. go hogs!

  12. Jeff willis says:

    I grew up going to Razorback games at War Memorial Stadium. My home town of El Dorado represented a lot of LR season ticket holders, like my family. Years later, working for KHOG TV, I learned of the proposed stadium that could have been built off the 430 bypass, just south of the river. There was a low “mesa” that was owned by the county that would have been perfect for a stadium. It would have offered a commanding view of both the river and Pinnacle mountain. Better yet, both Memphis and Southern Mississippi indicated that the would be willing to play the Razorbacks annually as a “neutral” site at what was being secretly referred to as “A.R.S.”(Arkansas River Stadium). Why didn’t it happen? Because the city wasn’t willing to make the commitment! To be sure, the move to the S.E.C. was on the table. When the thought of playing two schools in border states as “neutral site” opponents, the Central Arkansas contingent became defensive. Oh yeah! They were also penciling in an annual game between Arkansas state and La. Tech during state fair week. And, an August NFL exibition game featuring the Dallas Cowboys. The problem was, “why pay for something that they were getting for free?” It comes down to Little Rock wanting the state to pay for it. You reap what you sew…

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