Doc Harper: Is Arkansas vs. Missouri An SEC Rivalry?

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Rivalries are great for schools. They help provide an identity. A measuring stick. Something for fans to get excited for every year regardless of record or ranking.  If nothing else, it’s just fun.

It’s always thrilling to win against a quality opponent, as Arkansas did against Missouri on Saturday, especially when the game comes down to the last second, but this didn’t feel like a normal game.  Arkansas hadn’t played a regular season basketball game with that type of atmosphere in a long time.  There was tension. There was trash-talking. There was substantial booing of Mike Anderson and the Razorbacks because of the substantial number of Missouri fans made the trip to Fayetteville.

It was a scene unlike any I’d ever seen for a Razorback basketball game both inside and outside the arena. Rarely does Fayetteville get many opposing visitors for sports other than football. But it was clear that, while there were many Razorback fans looking for tickets outside the arena, the sell-out was due to the infiltration of Missouri fans, who stood out in their gold and black amidst the red and white like plaque on teeth. Obviously, this concept of a conference neighbor is one we’ll have to get used to.

Since it was announced that Missouri was entering the SEC, there has been an expectation, or at least a hope, that Missouri would develop into a true rivalry for Arkansas. Certainly, Arkansas fans have been able to develop a hatred for a variety of conference opponents over the last 20 years, but other SEC schools already had generations-deep rivalries going when Arkansas made the switch, so mutual hatred has been a rare commodity over the years.

There was a definite basketball SEC rivalry with Kentucky when Arkansas basketball was at its peak in the early and mid-’90s, but that’s grown mild as the Razorbacks faded into mediocrity. Ole Miss is an old rival for Arkansas, and it caught fire again when Houston Nutt left Arkansas and was immediately hired by the Rebels. That was a game fans of both schools circled on their calendars – at least until Nutt’s Rebels became conference laughingstocks and he was fired before the end of his fourth season.

And ultimately, it’s difficult for Arkansas to move into the special dark corner of Ole Miss fans’ hearts reserved for hatred of Mississippi State and LSU. It’s the same problem the Razorbacks have had with anybody else in the SEC. Administrators tried to force rivalry upon Arkansas and LSU (mainly due to scheduling convenience), and while there are plenty of Arkansas fans who do hate LSU, it’s just never matched the intensity of the hatred Arkansas had for Texas just as LSU fans don’t look forward to the Arkansas game as much as their Florida or Alabama games.

Perhaps if Arkansas had actually kept LSU from the national title after the 2007 upset, something stronger may have grown between the two programs, but when a freaky set of dominos all fell the Tigers’ way the following week, LSU was back in the title game and the Arkansas upset became a footnote on the 2007 season for fans on the bayou.

But unlike the manufactured SEC rivalry with LSU, elements of a natural rivalry with Missouri have been developing for years. Beyond the obvious proximity between campuses, there have been plenty of on and off the field battles to seed animosity. Mike Anderson left Missouri for Arkansas. The Hogs have beaten the Tigers in recruiting for the likes of Ronnie Wingo, Jonathan Williams, Will Hines, and Kody Walker while the Tigers beat out Arkansas for Ricardo Ratliffe in basketball and two of their starting receivers in Marcus Lucas and, infamously, Dorial Green-Beckham.

They’ve also split a pair of bowl games over the last decade.  Arkansas won the 2003 Independence Bowl, which is a largely forgotten part of that disappointing season. Meanwhile, the Tigers are quick to trumpet their Cotton Bowl blowout of the essentially coachless Arkansas team in the 2008 Cotton Bowl as evidence of their supposed football superiority.

Saturday marked the first time the two schools played against each other as conference opponents in one of the major sports, and it lived up to what we hoped it would be. Despite Arkansas giving Missouri a four-minute head start, the game always felt close. It was physical. There were several different momentum swings. Both allegiances in the crowd stayed hot throughout the game. Few things as a sports fan make your heart sink worse than hearing an opponent’s battle cry (“M-I-Z   Z-O-U”) in celebration in your home arena because it appears the game is over.

But the game wasn’t over. In another trademark of a hotly contested game, one fan base left in the glow of victory, and the other left blaming the officiating. Missouri coach Frank Haith opened his post game press conference with a comment disguised as a no-comment about the referees. The Missouri site RockMNation.com, in lieu of their usual postgame reaction column, posted this series of tweets critical of the officiating at the end of the game.  As if no team had ever gotten a bad call before.

The end of the game has Missouri fans fervently anticipating the return matchup in Columbia on March 5th, which is exactly how a rivalry should be. Sadly, the two schools don’t face each other in football in 2013 (the annual game could begin as soon as 2014), so we’ll have to wait another year for another basketball game to keep this going. Fortunately, unlike most other SEC programs, Arkansas and Missouri both take football and basketball seriously, so games in both sports could carry rivalry significance.  If the atmosphere surrounding future games at all resembles what we saw Saturday, count me in.

But let’s remember that Mizzou will travel for basketball and keep them from filling up the upper deck of Bud Walton in the future.

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a regular contributor to College Football News and Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him here and follow him on Twitter.

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  • biter_dictum

    To shrug off the horridly bad and one sided officiating by saying, “who hasn’t gotten a bad call” is a blatantly homerish tactic. And it wasn’t one call, it was several, all in a critical point in the game, the last 2 minutes. There was BJ’s walk, the traveling call on Ross where he was mugged by the arkansas playe(geez, no wonder he moved) the no foul call on the timeout, the other phantom foul call with BJ in the paint, the clock operator blowing a great opportunity at the end of the game for Mizzou. And it’s not like it was just Missouri fans upset with the calls, there were plenty of non-mizzou fans pointing out how ridiculous the whole sequence was. Sure you won, congratz, but don’t act like the officiating didn’t give you one heck of a boost.

    • Doc Harper

      Wrong. It would be homerish if I said there were no bad calls. There were. The only egregiously bad calls were the walk after the rebound and the non-travel on BJ. The other stuff is all questionable at best, so complaining about them is just whining.

      Does Arkansas win the game without them? Maybe not. Does Missouri have a 4 point lead with under a minute to play if some of the other 49 foul calls in the game go differently? Maybe not.

      My point is there are bad calls in any game. Whether you have a whistle-happy crew like we had in Fayetteville on Saturday or a “let-em-play” crew. People complain about officiating in every game of every sport on every level. Deal with it.

      Officiating didn’t force Bell to guard BJ too closely in a situation where the smart play for Mizzou would be to give up the layup. Officiating didn’t allow Mizzou not to press the only guy on Arkansas’ team who can go coast-to-coast (twice!) and force him to pass.

      Bad officiating is a part of sports. I understand the frustration but you can only control what you can control. Arkansas made the plays in the last 40 seconds of the game, so Arkansas won. Arkansas fans have a lengthy list of games in which we think the refs screwed us over, but even the one time the officials were actually suspended for sucking so bad, that Florida game may have turned out differently if Tejada had just made those field goals.

      • Name

        Quite simply, you are just wrong. You know it, as hard as it is to admit.

  • MagsMizzou

    I’m a huge Mizzou fan and went down to Fayetteville with a couple of my friends from grad school. I had gotten my undergrad at Mizzou and they got theirs at Arkansas. We had a great time. Great game. Great atmosphere. My thoughts of Razorbacks were good… Until after the game. I was getting called names, grown men down there were putting their hands on me pulling my hair trying to rip my bow out of my hair… It was just something I’d never experienced before and shouldn’t have to. I was actually scared. And as a grown woman trying to enjoy myself with good friends, I shouldn’t have to worry about that stuff. So you can call us Yankee trash all you want… But Razorback fans were the only people I saw acting like trash.

    Also, in regards to officiating… It was bad. Arkansas fans around me were even laughing at it. I was getting texts left and right from MU and kU fans alike watching from home saying that most of the calls were bogus. I don’t care to blame officiating in its entirety though. Now we just know about Arkansas’ home cookin’ and maybe we’ll be more prepared next time.

    • Gregg

      Oh good grief with the officiating. My gosh, like this is the first time a ref blew a call/game. The Hogs get home cooked at home all the time! i dont want to hear it. Maybe, the basketball gods were punishing you for being horrible fans.This is sporting life Arkansas, not sporting life Missouri. I believe that website is: stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com/
      Game result aside… The Missouri fans i was around were disgusting and disrespectful. I wouldnt act like that in my home arena/stadium much less at an opponents.

      • Brandon Shook

        Just remember, they think that as Mizzou fans that we have no class, but they’re wrong, we have one of the best fan bases in the country, and I look forward to next year so Mizzou can whip them again, go tigers!

    • Name

      Uh, what? Pulling your hair? Right… nobody at that game cared about your “bows.” People go to jail for committing battery.

      I will say that was a terribly officiated game. I will also say get used to it in the SEC.

      • MagsMizzou

        I hope you wouldn’t put your hands on a woman… Pulling my hair is assault. If you condone it, your as trashy as the guy who did it.

  • Whatever

    The hog fans calling Mizzou fans disguising and trash are pathetic. I was at the Cotton Bowl and was called every name in the book. I just sat back and laughed as we wiped out butts with your pathetic team. And to think that that basketball game wasn’t the worst case of horrible officiating is just wrong. That walk by Young was horrible. Down 4, he gets the and 1. Now your team is down 2. Make the right call and we have the ball going to the line to go up 6….game over! Maybe it’s to difficult for you inbreds to understand, I don’t know. Just go back to sleeping with your cousins and all will be right in the world. Pig so eeeeeeeee!

    • Gregg

      “Just go back to sleeping with your cousins and all will be right in the world” -not trashy or disgusting at all…

      Congratulations on reaching the apex for Missouri athletics…The cotton bowl. Well done and well played. Never let go of that momentous feeling. And judging by how often you bring it up I’m sure you won’t.

      And for the record, i have lived in arkansas and missouri. Missouri is just as full of inbred, white trash as Arkansas. so that point it moot.

  • http://twitter.com/SportingLifeArk/status/305801400154210304/ @SportingLifeArk

    The comments, still coming, on @doc_harper’s piece on Ark/Missouri are priceless: http://t.co/wp8EeDkdT7

  • MagsMizzou

    Uhm. Pulling hair is trashy and assault. And for a man to put his hands on a woman is disgusting on its own. Show some class. I did nothing to be called names and have hands put on me. I think it’s less that we were “disgusting” and more that we travelled well to your c