It does not take much in the way of extrapolation to glean from this past week’s sports news that the clock is ticking down to the end of University of Arkansas football games in Little Rock.
First it was the characterization by new Hog coach Bret Bielema that he and his coaches think of the two Little Rock games (there used to be as many as four games in the capital city) as away games.
“I know that it’s a home game on our schedule,” the coach said, “but we as coaches and players have to treat it as a road game.”
Well, yes, it does take driving to Little Rock, but we have a hard time thinking that the trip is suddenly that much more difficult for this group of coaches and players than it was for preceding generations of these guys who make a living or college careers being the utmost in tough.
There was even the day, gasp, when there wasn’t an Interstate 40 or even, OMG, an I-540 bypass on which to make the trip up over the mountain. Remember the arduous days of Highway 71? But somehow, these burly guys of yore all got to Little Rock and back in one piece and managed to win a few games across the years.
Now, a three-plus hour bus trip is sooo uncomfortable — Coach said he worried about his players’ ability to recover from sitting so long — as to be considered the same as — or worse than — going somewhere a couple of states away. Well, except for 50,000 fans screaming for you.
Then there’s Athletic Director Jeff Long who not so gracefully tiptoed around the continued trips to Little Rock to play football. (Insert dollar signs in here wherever you like.) Long called the idea of continuing to play in Little Rock a “complicated, difficult question” Long was quizzed on the subject while at a booster club meeting in northwest Arkansas, and the subject resurfaced when coach made his comments.
The AD said it wasn’t the right time to discuss the matter because the UA team is contracted to play at War Memorial Stadium through the year 2016, adding that there will be “many people besides myself involved in that decision.”
Obviously, money is a big factor. The U of A Fayetteville campus has a 72,000-seat capacity at Razorback Stadium and the school can pocket all the proceeds of a game there, compared to about a 54,000-seat capacity at War Memorial Stadium.
Long said the continuation of play in Little Rock, coupled with scheduling complications that could trim the number of conference games played in Fayetteville, could create a financial drain but that they wouldn’t be “overwhelming.” To the question of whether the coach’s remarks might alienate support from Little Rock, Long said that aspect didn’t concern him. As in Little Rock fans … yawn.
We do get the fact that playing in Little Rock is an oddity in the world of high-octane college football where teams will play at any hour of the day or night for a TV paycheck. But Arkansas’ flagship university has been the statewide brand of football for as far back as you want to look. To carry that off, it has had a presence in central Arkansas in the way of a handful of games played there over the years, many of them memorable or pivotal or both.
Now Little Rock gets a mere two games, and we view the comments coming out of the university this past week as the first salvo in the effort to eliminate those as well. If that happens, it will be a disservice to the central Arkansas fans who helped make the school into all-across-the-state entity it is today. And without that annual injection of Razorback football into the Little Rock market, well, who knows… out of sight, out of mind and maybe most importantly, out of pocketbook. As in Arkansas State has had some promising seasons, etc.
For now, the team will make its way back to Fayetteville after today’s Little Rock game via plane ride. The cost seems a small price to pay for the school to keep its athletic foot in the central Arkansas market to tip its hat to the market that has robustly followed the team forever. And at least the coach won’t have the inordinate stresses of a bus ride to blame for any future losses. Looking back, it’s a wonder the Hogs won any games at all following those horrible trips to Little Rock!