LITTLE ROCK — Building a rivalry between Arkansas and Missouri is going to take a while, but, paraphrasing The Rolling Stones, circa 1964, “Time is on their side.”
For the foreseeable future, the Razorbacks and Tigers will finish the regular season in Columbia, Mo., or Fayetteville as permanent cross-division opponents.
The word was part of the SEC announcement that it is sticking with the eight-game conference schedule and requiring all 14 teams to play at least one opponent from the other four power conferences — a requirement already met by most SEC members.
The league’s action is spot-on with a column a week ago in which “the best guess” was that the league would endorse the eight-game schedule and require a ninth game against a team a from one of the so-called “contract” conferences — the ACC (Orange), the Big 12 (Sugar) and the Pac-12 and Big Ten (Rose).
In effect, the conference is saying, the best football in the country is in the SEC and the conference champion is deserving of a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff whether it plays eight or nine conference games during the regular season.
Both the Pac-12 and the Big 12 play a nine-game conference schedule and the Big Ten joins the group in 2016. The ACC is considering a nine-game schedule although Duke coach David Cutcliffe says the coaches are leaning heavily toward the eight-game schedule.
“One thing about the SEC is it has always marched to its own drummer,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said.
Disconcerting about the eight-game schedule is one of the non-division opponents will rotate each year. I wondered if that meant that Arkansas would only play a particular Eastern Division opponent every seven years. “Basic format is all we are at a point to discuss right now,” SEC communications director Chuck Dunlap said in response to an e-mail.
More specifics may be available in late May at the SEC meetings.
Certainly, Missouri makes much more sense than South Carolina as the Razorbacks’ permanent cross-division rival. Above all else is the proximity — 310 miles from Fayetteville to Columbia. Now, Texas A&M will be stuck fabricating a rivalry with the Gamecocks more than 1,000 miles away.
To generate some passion, the Razorbacks vs. Tigers needs an ignition switch. Researching Missouri football, there is little to dislike. The Tigers have some nice traditions, including the painting of a 95-foot tall letter “M” at one end of the stadium each August. The mascot is named “Truman,” after the 33rd president of the United States, but an attempt to obtain a live tiger failed a few years ago.
Until wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham screwed up again and was kicked off the team earlier this month, the former No. 1 recruit in the country could have been a bridge in the Missouri-Arkansas rivalry since he went down to the wire with the Razorbacks before deciding to stay home.
The only other potential hook occurred more than 50 years ago and I doubt that current Missouri fans get riled up about their coach, Frank Broyles, leaving Columbia for Fayetteville.
Maybe the rivalry needs a trophy for the winner to tote around the field. When Missouri was in the Big 12, an Indian War Drum was at stake vs. Kansas, a bell was the prize against Nebraska and a telephone was the trophy vs. Iowa State. The latter came about because, when the coaches’ field phones were tested prior to the 1959 game, the teams could hear each other.
Surely the creative mind of David Bazzel can come up with something to be coveted as much as a rotary phone on a tall base painted half gold (Missouri) and half red (Iowa State). When the former Arkansas linebacker designed the “Golden Boot” for the Arkansas-LSU winner, he used the geography of the two states. Missouri stacked on top of Arkansas forms an elongated blob so Bazzel will have to find inspiration elsewhere.
Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.