WACO, Texas — Arkansas-LSU has been the staple of Thanksgiving weekend for the past 20 years.
The Battle for the Golden Boot has been cemented on the football schedule as the regular-season finale. It has worked well in the spotlight with nationally televised games. It has produced its share of fantastic finishes and carried plenty of significance, one way or another, on the national title picture.
But brace yourselves Arkansas fans.
The end-of-the-year tradition is going to end.
It could be 2014. Or 2015. It could be a little further down the road. But peering into the crystal ball — and looking back at some of the recent rumblings regarding the date of the game — it sure feels like a sure bet to say the change is coming.
Consider the recent evidence:
• LSU athletic director Joe Alleva sounded matter-of-fact when he told the Baton Rouge Advocate before the SEC spring meetings he expects the Aggies to become LSU’s season-ending opponent. Alleva indicated the likely change wouldn’t be on the schedule until at least 2014, but Arkansas “will be in the middle somewhere.”
• Former Mississippi State and Texas A&M coach Jackie Sherrill, though not connected to the SEC office, told Sports Talk With Bo Mattingly last week the change “has been talked about” and is going to happen because “it will be draw more people than Arkansas-LSU or Arkansas-A&M.”
• Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long has been adamant that neither the Razorbacks, nor the SEC office, were aware of any discussions regarding a move. He doesn’t want the change, either. But Long also added a caveat last week, mentioning several times “I can’t say that it won’t happen” during a conversation at the Houston Regional.
The one thing we can guarantee is, with the SEC diligently working on its long-term scheduling plans, there will be changes. It’s inevitable when you’re piecing together a 14-team schedule with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri.
We know South Carolina won’t be on Arkansas’ schedule annually with the Gamecocks officially swapping places with Missouri as the permanent SEC East opponent. Alabama may not be Arkansas’ first SEC opponent when the new scheduling template is in place, either. LSU-Arkansas could move, as Alleva told the Baton Rouge Advocate late last month, “to the middle somewhere.”
It makes sense for LSU-Texas A&M. The two have a long nonconference history, although they haven’t played since 1995. LSU is the SEC school in closest proximity to College Station, Texas. And the Aggies are determined to kickstart a new tradition with its annual battle against Texas a thing of the past after jilting the Big 12.
It makes sense for the SEC, too, showcasing one of its new toys (Texas A&M). One reason for expanding the SEC was widening the conference’s footprint in prime television markets. It’s safe to say there aren’t many bigger television times than a potential Friday-after-Thanksgiving game.
Long may not want to Arkansas-LSU to lose its season-ending spot, but he may have no choice in the end. There’s no doubt LSU-Arkansas has been important to the Razorbacks in its current place on the schedule the past several years. The game has gained enough allure that Arkansas chose to move it out of Little Rock and place it on campus this fall for the first time since 1992.
But playing LSU in mid-October won’t be crippling for Arkansas if both teams have something at stake. Remember when the game of the year between Alabama and LSU was played last year? It was the first weekend in November.
Arkansas has a viable option for a Thanksgiving weekend replacement, too. The Razorbacks and Missouri have all the makings for a budding rivalry. It’s a topic Long has been outspoken about ever since the Tigers joined the SEC.
“I think over time our fans and Missouri fans will come to love those battles,” Long said.
So it’s time to come up with a new trophy. And time to develop a catchy name. The way things look, Arkansas will have a new season-ending rivalry game to play as early as 2014.