Three Arkansas sports radio call-in show debates that have had me flipping the dial quickly: 1) Arkansas never should have fired disgraced Coach Bobby Petrino. 2) The War Memorial Stadium debate and 3) Should Arkansas and Arkansas State play each other in football?
Finally, I think the argument to keep Petrino has died down after he was fired at Louisville and is no longer really a hot commodity in college coaching as he tries to resurrect his career at FCS Missouri State.
The other two were kind of squashed together this week when Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek boldly announced the in-state schools will clash for the first time, breaking a decades old UA ban, in 2025. The venue: War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
The announcement of the game was part of a plan unveiling the decision not to play SEC games in Little Rock so that means a scheduled game with Missouri this year will be in Fayetteville and another in-state school, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, will be play its non-conference game with the Hogs at Little Rock.
The move was clever on Yurachek’s part. Normally, there may have been an uproar from Central Arkansas fans upset about moving a game such as Missouri back to campus. But, when the announcement also includes playing an in-state rival for the first time with a pretty good chance this may lead to future matchups, that disappointment is lessened.
And for the Northwest Arkansas crowds that thumb their noses at Little Rock and “that dump of a stadium,” they are probably slightly more satisfied that they won’t have to travel to see a conference game in the Capital City. They still may scoff at it, but it makes some sense playing a non-conference rivalry game in the center of the sate each year. Or at least it might to some.
To me, it’s just one less black eye for a state whose outside perception is that we run around barefoot and live in shacks. For the outsider, not playing an in-state school because an AD insisted on that in the 1940s is backwoods and bush league. I absolutely agree. I have been embarrassed more than a few times when explaining that ban to out-of-state friends. When a majority of Power 5 schools play in-state opponents, it makes Arkansas stick out like a sore thumb.
Frank Broyles is an icon and a figure who should be recognized appropriately on the campus that houses state-of-the-art athletic facilities that he helped build during his time as athletic director. We should never forget those accomplishments, nor the great success he had on the football field.
However, I am glad Yurachek, who is not an Arkansas native, had the courage to put that tradition to bed. Jeff Long, who succeeded Broyles as UA athletic director, wanted no part of that, especially while Broyles was still alive. Also note, he got in hot water and ended his tenure trying to move games out of War Memorial Stadium, which Yurachek took note of, too. Yurachek was smart enough to keep the game but do some rearranging which also led to the demise of the Arkansas State ban.
The announcement this week, was met with mixed emotions. Many A-State fans rejoiced. It is an opportunity many of them never thought they’d live to see. On the other side, some Arkansas fans, brainwashed by Broyles, think it’s a disaster and will be a losing proposition for the Hogs. At least three media members said as much in columns following the announcement.
That is absolute hog wash. Arkansas will remain Arkansas and its standing in the state regardless of what Arkansas State does on the football field. I saw it in my native Iowa. Both Power 5 schools, Iowa and Iowa State, play/played mid-majors Drake and Northern Iowa. Both have lost to them in basketball and ISU has lost to UNI, an FCS school in football, more than a few times but that hasn’t changed the landscape. The top recruits don’t just all of a sudden flock to UNI. The money doesn’t flood there either. That’s just extreme paranoia and ridiculous. Broyles never had to worry about A-State taking over the state.
The past 10 years have been rocky for the Arkansas program, especially during the two seasons of the Chad Morris era when the program hit lows never seen in school history. That may have some Arkansas fans nervous. A-State enjoyed one of its better 10-year runs. If the two teams had played during that time the Red Wolves would have been very competitive. Arkansas would be lucky to be 6-4 during that time. Maybe 7-3 but also possibly 5-5. The gap was a lot closer than it would have been at any other time.
The good news is Arkansas may be a Top 25 team again by the time the two teams square off in four years. It’s also possible A-State may have had at least one, and maybe two, coaching changes by then based off of recent history. With Sam Pittman at the helm, Arkansas seems to be in a position to move out of the depths of despair. If he brings continuity and success seen by Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino, Arkansas will rarely lose. Those teams, even the lesser ones, were more talented than A-State and would have been favored to win. It’s only recently when chaos has ensured and Arkansas State rose a few notches where the games wouldn’t be predicted as Hogs wins. But that day may be coming soon, and Arkansas State will need to up its game to keep up.
Even if a series begins, and it is dominated by Arkansas, the fans on both sides will enjoy this. It will bring a buzz during game week that you have rarely seen. Iowa beat Iowa State in football for 15 straight seasons and most of those wins were lopsided. The Hawkeyes own a commanding 45-22 series advantage and have won the past five. That dominance still doesn’t diminish Iowa State fans’ optimism or Iowa’s exuberance for winning. The week is chock full of trash talk and spirit. It’s absolutely glorious no matter which side you are on.
That will happen here, too. Arkansas can play some random cupcake which will barely draw a crowd, or it can pay the same amount to Arkansas State, most likely win the game, and have the best tailgating crowd in the country that week on the abandoned War Memorial Golf Course and actually have some fun.
Some are claiming this decision is a good thing for Arkansas. I don’t know about that, but it is the right one.