LITTLE ROCK —Preparing a deposit slip for Arkansas State University football, athletics director Terry Mohajir can choose bucks or buzz, check or chatter.
To bank the cash, Mohajir must void a contract for Missouri to play in Jonesboro in 2015 and agree to play the Southeastern Conference team in St. Louis.
As an aside, saying no to the move and the money would provide football fans an opportunity to compare the Razorbacks and the Red Wolves under relatively similar circumstances. ASU-Missouri is scheduled Sept. 12 in Jonesboro; Arkansas-Missouri is Thanksgiving weekend in Fayetteville.
However, enabling the comparison is not part of the thought process of Mohajir. Overseeing a $28 million upgrade of football facilities, he is weighing financial obligations against deflating a fan base enthused about teams from the SEC and the ACC playing in Jonesboro. Either way, he will irritate some — the unemotional who view St. Louis as a needed payday and invested fans convinced ASU can be the Boise State of the South.
Mohajir — who runs a department with a budget of about $15.3 million last year — did not say how much the St. Louis Sports Commission offered ASU to play in Busch Stadium, but he was quoted as saying the sum is more than the $1.3 million ASU will receive to open the 2015 season at USC.
Barely a year ago, Mohajir earned statewide attention by landing a home-and-home against both Missouri and Miami. A summer happening, newspaper columns and talk radio welcomed the fresh topic and praised his aggressive scheduling. If Mohajir takes the St. Louis money, some kudos will be retracted.
Before Mohajir arrived in Jonesboro in September 2012, ASU vs. a team from one of the five power conferences was strictly a road game for money. The last team from what used to be the BCS conferences to play in Jonesboro was Ole Miss in 2001.
Mohajir recently made a pitch to other Sun Belt Conference members, contending that the schools are in a strong position when it comes to scheduling teams from the power conferences. Among other things, he cited the strength of schedule component that is to be important in selecting teams for the College Football Playoff. He contends the mandate that SEC and ACC members schedule a team from one of the power conferences could backfire.
“A 2-10 Big Ten team or a 9-3 Sun Belt champ, I think the committee will say, ‘You beat a champion of a league,’” he said in a recent telephone interview. “You’ve got to play teams that have success.”
In turn, he says, “They’ll either have to pay top dollar with us or schedule more home and home.”
He said Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart told him the $1 million the Vols are paying ASU for a game on Sept. 6 is the most ever for an opponent. “It’s the lowest we would ever go,” Mohajir responded.
By the same token, strength of schedule is important for members of the Sun Belt, Mountain West, Mid-American, Conference USA, and American Athletic Conference because the highest ranked champion from those leagues will be in one of the four major bowls connected to the CFP.
Discussing the Missouri game, Mohajir pushed season tickets, corporate sponsorships, and donations to the Red Wolves Foundation to make up revenue lost if the game is in Jonesboro.
ASU sold about 8,400 season tickets in 2013. Bumping up season ticket sales by 5,000 or so would be a clear signal to the A.D. to pass on St. Louis even though the additional ticket revenue would fall far short of the money on the table.
For instance, the most expensive season ticket at ASU —reserved chairback in one midfield section — is only $175 with a $200 donation to the foundation. Thousands of reserved bench seats are available for $115.
The onus is on ASU fans and supporters to pony up to keep the Missouri game in Jonesboro.
Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.