Fayetteville, Ark.– For 20 years Arkansas and LSU have played each other to end their respective SEC regular season. After splitting wins and losses through the early part of their rivalry, the end of the season finale has grown in recent years to have a major impact on national championship and SEC title game implications.
One addition of a former Southwest Conference foe for Arkansas to the Southeastern Conference and all of that hard work to build up a powerful Thanksgiving weekend rivalry enjoyed by a national TV audience could be wiped off the board.
At the SEC meetings being held this week inDestin,Fla., Texas A&M is throwing their TV market weight around in the form of requesting, perhaps demanding, that the Aggies wrap up their SEC seasons by playing the LSU Tigers.
The move makes sense for the Aggies but ideally does little else for all parties involved including the SEC but logic be damned.
The one party that is getting the biggest raw deal out of the possible scenario is the University of Arkansas.
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long previously made the decision to move the Arkansas vs. LSU game from War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark. to Fayetteville beginning in the 2012 football season. The last time the Tigers played in Razorback Stadium was 1992 (30-6 win by Arkansas).
The reasons were logical: able to bring recruits on campus for official visits, more thought concession and ticket revenue to be generated, and more exposure for Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas.
Lost in the decision was cutting out a large fan base that penciled in their schedules in January of a given year and worked Thanksgiving plans around LSU coming to town every other season.
True a SEC game will replace the Tigers’ matchup in Little Rock; Ole Miss will play the Hogs at War Memorial in 2012. With all due respect to Ole Miss, the cache of the Rebels over the Tigers is not in the same thus the fan interest and national interest is not the same.
Jeff Long’s decision to slowly remove marquee Arkansas Razorback games from the capitol city may provide more money for the school but alienates a fan base that travels from beyond Pulaski County to see top matchups at War Memorial Stadium.
With I-30 and I-40 converging inLittle Rock, fans from Texas and beyond Memphis have made easy pilgrimages to War Memorial for Arkansas vs. LSU. The same can be said for fans in the southern half of Arkansas along with the northern part of Louisiana.
As long as the Hogs remain competitive and continue to contend for SEC West titles fans will show up no matter what.
Should the Hogs stumble into seasons seen as recently as 2004 (5-6) and 2005 (4-7) under former head coach Houston Nutt, this move will prove to be disastrous for Arkansas Razorback football.
The ability to attract fans to any stadium is not always about ticket price but is as much about the product on the field. Asking fans to give up an extra day of vacation to travel to Fayetteville for any Hog game during the season has always been part of the deal. Asking students to come back to campus after dispersing for Thanksgiving is an odd choice that makes little sense.
Long’s snub to Little Rock has forced War Memorial Stadium to replace the Hogs in more ways than one.
Currently Arkansas State takes center stage at War Memorial’s 50-yard line. Who would have ever thought that an Arkansas Razorback logo would be replaced by the Red Wolves?
What choice does War Memorial Stadium have but to bring ASU into the fold to remain in business?
Laugh now but it is not out of the realm of possibilities that one day Little Rock (gasp) becomes an Arkansas State town or at least more than it ever has been.
No matter how one looks at it moving the LSU vs. Arkansas game takes a slice out of the Razorbacks’ market share and fan base all to move one marquee game, a game that no longer holds the cache it once did by the powers of the SEC, namely SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
Jeff Long made a decision that he felt was more important to the financial gain of the university, so be it. Now his move to separate the fan base from War Memorial Stadium was all for not. A bigger dog has spoken (Slive) and Arkansas fans lose again.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva let it be known while at the SEC Media Days that the Tigers will more than likely begin playing A&M instead of Arkansas over Thanksgiving weekend in 2014.
The Tigers vs. Aggies game will renew a storied rivalry between the two schools that spanned from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. A renewed rivalry game that will take place regardless as each team is a SEC West member, a matchup that already has a built in fan base and curious national TV audience, and a game that does not need a holiday TV audience unlike Arkansas vs. LSU.
Slive maybe counting the TV shares and marketing dollars he can generate by winning a Friday after Thanksgiving audience with LSU and A&M but what becomes of the Battle for the Golden Boot? Has that game just another Saturday fall football contest in October?
Arkansas can use all the national TV exposure it can receive. Recruiting to the somewhat isolated University of Arkansas campus in the Ozark Mountains has proved to be challenging over the years for more than a few head football coaches. Taking away one of the biggest opportunities to shine and gain recruiting recognition on a national level only hurts Arkansas thus it hurts the SEC as a whole.
Arkansas maybe a small TV market compared to other conference members but it has a fan base that is as passionate as any other SEC school. It is sad to see how one financial decision after another can possibly hinder a loyal Razorback Nation.
Speculation is the Missouri Tigers will become Arkansas’ new Thanksgiving weekend game.
The Razorbacks vs. Tigers theme will be the same come Thanksgiving 2014 but the quality and excitement center upon the game will be far less… for now.