LITTLE ROCK — Taking the initiative, with an assist from the man in charge, Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long did not get any questions from Little Rock Touchdown Club members about the future of Razorback football games in the Capitol city.
Before taking questions during an appearance Monday, Long said essentially the same thing he said recently in Northwest Arkansas — that the contract for two games per year in Little Rock is good through 2016 and that there is no reason to rush a decision. Substantive talks, he said, will make more sense in the summer of 2015.
He elaborated by detailing possible extenuating circumstances, including whether the Southeastern Conference adds a ninth conference game, the fact that the SEC Network comes online in 2014, network demands for quality games and the possibility of SEC expansion. On the latter topic, he made it clear he did not have any inside information.
Long prefaced his remarks about Razorback games in Little Rock by calling the matter the “elephant in the room.” He also said he was well aware of speculation and comments about the games, but said those are positives because they show that people care.
“We need fans from all over the state,” was only one of his references to statewide support of the Razorbacks and I suspect he meant to mention the annual appearances of the basketball team and baseball team in Central Arkansas, something he referenced during a radio spot recorded for the Samford pre-game show.
Before Long addressed the group, club president David Bazzel encouraged audience members to be respectful when asking questions even if they did not agree with Long’s position. Folks applauded the announcement.
When the time came, Long was asked about the status of Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, an accounting procedure in the athletic department budget and allegations involving Oklahoma State.
In a brief news conference after his address, Long reiterated that four years of Little Rock games are in place and and discussions beyond that are “not at the top of our priority list.”
During his speech, Long recognized War Memorial Stadium Commission chairman Kevin Crass and other commission members and went out of his way at the news conference to thank the commission for not holding him to an August deadline for the identity of the two games in Little Rock in 2014.
He said he wanted to consult with coach Bret Bielema before making that decision. Pressed, he said that the schedule is a challenge every year and that he had looked at at least eight scenarios.
Long did deliver one nugget of breaking news — that two men from Little Rock who wished to remain anonymous at this time had donated a total of $1.6 million toward the construction of an on-campus basketball practice facility. Less than two weeks ago, Long said, “I’ve never had a facility that I’ve gotten more resistance about in a fan base than I have this basketball practice facility.”
Long said Monday that there is no timetable for the facility, which is expected to cost $22 million to $23 million.
“We’re going to make it happen,” he said, noting that Arkansas is the only school in the 14-team SEC without such a facility. “We don’t like to be last in anything,” he said.
Much like he did when he addressed the Northwest Arkansas TD Club, Long heaped praise on Bielema, calling him genuine, noting that he appeared at 70-plus events when his contract called for 20, and describing the head coach as relentless about recruiting.
“It is a pleasure to go to work with the man every day,” he said.
Long had some fun, referring to his “Never Yield” fundraising campaign by approaching the microphone with “Check, Check, Check,” and noting Rex Nelson’s on-target imitation of former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, the club speaker next week.
“If he doesn’t do that next week, he is a coward,” Long said.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.