LITTLE ROCK — A really good compromise, a wise man once said, is one that leaves both sides equally dissatisfied.
Approved Tuesday by the War Memorial Stadium Commission, the amended contract concerning Razorback football games in Little Rock meets the criteria, including some give and take on such things as the $75,000 rental fee for the stadium.
Some diehard fans of Little Rock games will continue to believe they are entitled to more than one game per year for the next five years and longer; some Razorback fans in Northwest Arkansas will criticize UA athletics director Jeff Long for shelling out $1.2 million for a total of three games to be moved from Little Rock to Fayetteville in each of the next three years.
To somebody who grew up in Little Rock and gets paid to attend all Razorback football games, this seems to work for both factions.
The agreement, which guarantees one Arkansas game per year in Little Rock through 2018, was the result of several conversations between Commission chairman Kevin Crass and Long. They began talking shortly after Long told the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club that the future of Arkansas football games in Little Rock was a “complicated, difficult question” and that a decision would be made when the time was appropriate. Soon after that, Long told the Little Rock Touchdown Club that there were several extenuating circumstances and indicated that a decision would be a long time coming.
In fact, I was surprised when a friend called with an alert about the commission meeting. No doubt, Crass updated Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and Gov. Mike Beebe while Long did the same with UA Chancellor David Gearhart, UA president Donald Bobbitt and the UA Board of Trustees.
Considering the discrepancy in income between games in Little Rock and Fayetteville and low attendance at the last three games at War Memorial Stadium, a short-term extension of the contract is the optimum for fans in central Arkansas. On the other end, Long was up against a scheduling dilemma.
In 2014, Arkansas has a non-conference game at Texas Tech, leaving three non-conference games and four SEC games to be divided between Fayetteville and Little Rock under the contract that was in place. Playing two in Little Rock — most likely Nicholls State and Ole Miss — would have left Fayetteville with five games, a development that would have meant four or five weeks between games on campus.
In 2015, one of Arkansas’ home games against an SEC opponent is in Arlington vs. Texas A&M, again reducing the number of games available for Fayettteville. My assumption is that the remaining three in-state games vs. SEC teams will be in Fayetteville that year and that the Razorbacks will play a non-conference opponent in Little Rock. If so, Arkansas would obligated to play one SEC opponent in Little Rock between 2016 and 2018.
Crass, who said he had watched games in Little Rock for 46 years, described the settlement as being in the “best interest of the stadium.”
“I believe without War Memorial Stadium, the Razorback football program would not have accomplished what it has and, conversely, without the Razorbacks football program, War Memorial Stadium would not be what it is today. I believe that’s what a partnership is all about,” Crass told commission members.
“Hopefully, this kind of quiets the debate …,” he added.
Instead of two-two-two through 2016, the one game per year, was described as the “best we can do” by Warren Simpson, one of four commission members who participated via teleconference. Commission members sitting around two folding tables pushed together in the War Memorial pressbox praised Crass for working out the details.
Crass did say that the $400,000 payments through 2016 will enable the stadium to meet bond payments that end in February 2017.
Later that afternoon, waiting near the elevator after a brief news conference with the commission chairman, Long used the word “courage” to describe Crass. Both are grown men; they can stand the heat.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.