Jim Harris: A Proposal to Salvage Razorback Football Games in Little Rock

Razorback Football Games in Little Rock – The Proposal

Jeff Long, the Arkansas athletic director, admittedly has a scheduling problem coming up in two years.

With the restoration of the Arkansas-Texas A&M series in Jerry Jones’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, beginning next season, and with that game being the Hogs’ “home” game in odd-numbered years, the Razorbacks will have one fewer conference game to play in state in 2015.

Arkansas also has a contract through 2016 with War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock to play two games, including one Southeastern Conference game, in the Capital City.

With the switch of Missouri for South Carolina as Arkansas’ permanent cross-division rival in the SEC, and the release of the SEC schedule for 2014, we have a good idea what the Hogs’ 2015 slate will look like.

It isn’t pretty for Long what he has to sell to his season ticket holders at Reynolds Razorback Stadium: Auburn and Missouri would be the only conference games played in Fayetteville in 2015. One can surmise that after the contract with War Memorial Stadium has expired, beginning in 2017 the Hogs can have three SEC games in Fayetteville. The Texas A&M contract for AT&T Stadium was renewed and extended to run 11 years — the teams played three times in an original 10-game series before A&M broke the contract to play Arkansas in College Station last season.

Arkansas has a nonconference home game with Texas Tech in 2015, with TCU in 2017 and with Michigan in 2019 (and, presumably, Texas in 2021 in a return game from the Longhorns that’s been put off twice).

The fact that Long can’t say what he’d do with Little Rock games beyond 2016 but that he’ll worry about that when the time comes should be taken as meaning there are no plans to renew a two-games-a-year deal with War Memorial Stadium. Long can couch it with the concerns that SEC schedules could change, the league could expand again, and we don’t know what’s on the horizon for later this decade, but the writing for War Memorial is on the wall.

We know Arkansas’s administration isn’t renewing the contract is it stands now and face the 2015 quandary of two league games at Reynolds Razorback Stadium again.

In may be the only time since Frank Broyles decided in 2000 to move the majority of Arkansas’ home games to campus, Little Rock has some leverage, at least in extending the playing of Razorback games here.

A shrewd Long may be ready to bite the bullet and suffer through 2015’s problems with no plans to deal with the War Memorial Stadium Commission beyond 2016. However, the commissioners could present Long with an option that could make all sides happy and secure Razorback football games in Little Rock.

Long said in a radio interview earlier this week that he won’t break the standing contract; A&M might have done so with the original Southwest Classic versus the Hogs in Jerry World, but that’s not Long’s style.

Yet both parties could renegotiate the contract when it is mutually beneficial to both groups. It’s been done before when the original deal was extended to 2016.

In this case, Little Rock’s folks could acquiesce to Long and surrender the 2015 conference game (Mississippi State, since Long said in the same interview that he doesn’t see playing the Missouri game at War Memorial Stadium) and accept just one game that season if Long would extend the contract beyond 2016.

Let’s say Arkansas and the stadium then agree to play two Razorback games in Little Rock in even-numbered years and one in odd-numbered years. No game has to be a conference game, but Arkansas must no longer play a Football Championship Subdivision opponent there as well, unless it happens to break university policy and schedule the University of Central Arkansas (which is in the same league as 2014 opponent Nicholls State).

As well, Arkansas and the stadium could renegotiate the lease arrangement where the UA doesn’t pay the $75,000 rental, but the UA sets up security on its own dime. Because War Memorial Stadium is essentially a neutral site, allow the stadium to sell beer (poured in cups) before and during the games, with all concession money staying with the stadium.

Perhaps as a good faith gesture, the richer Hog fans in Central Arkansas who insist on the Hogs playing here could charter a jet to fly the team to and from Adams Field. (OK, that was just meant for a chuckle.)

Everyone involved would be happy, and the Razorbacks would not have to give up what has been nearly an 80-year tradition of playing games in Little Rock, with 75 years played out in historic War Memorial Stadium — at least,  there’s been quite at bit of Hog history in that arena.

The problem is, little if any of the current UA athletic administration and the new coaching staff grew up knowing what Little Rock meant to Razorback football and why the arrangement compares to NOTHING ELSE in the college football world. The storyline is already being set from Fayetteville, however, of how “tiring” the travel to and from Little Rock is for the players and how it might affect the following week’s game. We doubt you’d find any ex-Hogs to say the Little Rock experience was a drain but, yes, new head coach Bret Bielema said just that in Fayetteville later on the same day when he talked in Little Rock about the uniqueness of the Razorbacks having three “home” stadiums.

The third “home” field, of course, is AT&T Stadium west of Dallas, where Arkansas insists on playing a conference rival through at least 2024. Coupled with two other contracted road games in Texas during this decade, this is ostensibly to build on a much-needed Texas recruiting base.

But in the grand scheme of things with the home-state fan base, is it really more important to be playing a game annually in the metro Dallas area while not playing a game anymore in Little Rock?

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