Doc Harper: Thoughts On A Busy Thanksgiving Week In Razorback Athletics

 

Doc Harper Bio PageLast week was hectic enough for Razorback fans.

With two football and three basketball games crammed within a span of seven days, there was plenty to talk about at the Thanksgiving table.

Fans had ample material regarding Razorback athletics to discuss: how much blame Bret Bielema deserves for the 2013 season (some); whether or not Brandon Allen is going to be  ”the answer” at quarterback going forward (can we get an honest answer on his injury impact?); what to make of the basketball team winning a game outside of Arkansas against a respectable opponent (fantastic!); and whether or not the NCAA Tournament is a realistic expectation for this squad (I think so). And just after leftovers, whether or not nearly knocking off LSU is actually a sign of positive momentum going forward (pleasepleaseplease); and if Gus Malzahn has a spot reserved on the upcoming Mount Rushmore of Razorback Oopses along with Jimmy Johnson and Bill Self (if he’d have brought his luck with him).

Personally, I enjoyed the “Korliss Marshall: safety or running back?” conversation. Is there a more intriguing player on the team right now? Obviously, the Razorbacks desperately need some help in the secondary, but Marshall seems so naturally suited to running back. Since the theme this year has been to look to history to make sense of where the Razorbacks are, I can’t help but to think of 2005, when the Hogs didn’t necessarily need a third running back to compliment returning star Peyton Hillis and highly-touted freshman Felix Jones, but speedy athlete Darren McFadden was too electric to keep on defense. Of course it’s totally unfair to compare anybody to McFadden, but the situations are similar. What the team does with Marshall in spring practice will be an important topic to follow.

However, all of that wasn’t enough. Right smack dab in the middle of the week, the same day the basketball team beat Minnesota in Hawaii, the athletic department announced the next phase in its relationship with War Memorial Stadium. In other words, pushed forward the Great Stadium Debate.

It was a Thanksgiving miracle.

I gave my opinions on the topic at the beginning of the season, and still largely feel the same way.

But there’s one angle to this discussion I feel is important to make that has largely been left out. As always, there’s been a ton of talk about the importance of playing games in Little Rock to exposing the Razorbacks to Arkansans in the central, southern, and eastern parts of the state. The part that’s largely left out, is that playing games in Little Rock also was important to expose the program to Little Rock media, which for decades, controlled the bulk of the information going through the state.

You may not have noticed, but the Razorbacks, the SEC, and college football as a whole don’t really struggle for exposure anymore. So if potential recruits or fans grow up wanting to be a part of a relevant, exciting brand of football, where games are played doesn’t matter as much as winning games and getting attention on ESPN, and not for being a joke.

Arkansas doesn’t have to worry about kids in the state growing up to be Arkansas State, UALR, or UCA fans. Kids aren’t going to ditch the SEC for the Sun Belt. They need to prevent people in the state growing up to be LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama or Auburn fans. Arkansas can play all 12 of their games in Little Rock, but if they only win three or four a year, it really doesn’t matter. UALR has played basketball in Little Rock for decades, but they’ve hardly cut into the Razorbacks’ popularity.

There will always people in Arkansas growing up to be loyal to the biggest program in the state, and the Razorbacks will by and large always have success recruiting them or relying on them to be donors or ticket buyers. But there are also people who grow up being attracted to the hot, winning programs wherever they may be, and what state they happen to live in isn’t as important as associating themselves with those winners or big stories or big excitement. These are the Josh Fraziers of the world. See his recent tweet:

Somehow, Arkansas’ upcoming forced rivalry with Missouri didn’t quite hold the same type of appeal.

Surely the endless media exposure in college sports has diluted the importance of playing a special game in a certain geographic location. The same argument goes for playing games in Arlington. Arkansas has committed to playing games in Texas every year starting in 2014, sometimes multiple games per year when the Hogs play at Texas Tech and at TCU, yet only two of Arkansas’ 17 commitments in the current recruiting class are from the Dallas area. Only one is from central Arkansas. If getting prospects to campus is so vital in Arkansas recruiting, is it really worth it to spend any games, especially conference games, off campus? Or is Arkansas so stuck in its lot in recruiting that the program should just do whatever is the most fun for its fans?

I grew up not caring about Razorback football even though I attended some games at War Memorial. I grew up caring about Razorback basketball because in those years it was an amazing, nationally elite program that everyone I knew was excited about and I wanted to be included. Football didn’t begin to become relevant to me until they won the SEC West in 1995. It wasn’t where in Arkansas the Razorbacks played that made a difference, it was how they performed.

If Bret Bielema is truly rebuilding the football program in a way that eventually results in consistent winning, people will want to be a part of the program, whether as recruits, donors, or just fans. But as long as Arkansas is fielding losing teams and young impressionable people have equal media access to out-of-state winners, Arkansas will probably lose some people, but those people probably wouldn’t think differently just because they got to go see the Hogs in Little Rock a few times a year.

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at heydocharper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

 

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  • GolfHog

    It’s a new day in NCAA football, has been for about 10 years. The money is in TV. The fans and venue are now just part of the entertainment package, the brand. Arkansas needs War Memorial for at least three good reasons. One, as always is Statewide support. Why ignore half of your fan base? Fayetteville is successful partially because of the fans that travel from the rest of the State. They should be rewarded. Fayetteville is not well located. Fans will not travel for those two extra bad games anyway. Leaving them in LR avoids seeing RRS half empty. Finally, the crazies are from around the state. They infect the quiet crowd from Fayetteville with energy that they would not otherwise possess. The Fayetteville crowd is attending a neighborhood social event. The guys driving 3, 4, and 5 hours are coming for a football game. And, one more bonus item for the brand. TV portrays the Hogs as a special program with it’s own personality, the only program left in America with 2 home fields.

    • Harry Taint

      Times change. The Razorbacks should be playing on campus. I am fine with one game per year in Little Rock. The mere fact that the Razorbacks play on campus is not going to alienate the fan in central or south Arkansas.

  • Deltaboy

    It sad to see it go but the reality is that UA gets enough money it can afford to ingore the 2/3 of the state since the SEC TV and other moneys flood the coffers.

  • A-State Fan Rules

    “Arkansas doesn’t have to worry about kids in the state growing up to be Arkansas State, UALR, or UCA fans.”

    Keep on believing that.

    • Bri

      Doc is right. I root for all the Ark teams to win but that doesn’t mean I ignore the fact that 90% of the players on those teams just aren’t good enuf to make the same impact on sec or major conf level. If they were they wld b there.

      • jimmmy

        That,s why the Hogs have to go out of state to recruit,there are just not enough TRUE Div1 Major College Football players in state,plus the young men from out of state have four years of spring Training that kids from Arkansas don,t get,it makes a difference,Here,s hopeing that Rafe Peavey is the Hogs starting QB next year.

  • Steve Steffens (LWC)

    I understand that since RRS has been enlarged several times, that it makes more sense to play games on campus. However, I am not schlepping 5 hours from Memphis and trying to get a hotel room when I can watch them on the tube. There was something magical about the Hogs being in Little Rock, when no matter where you lived in the state, you could drive down for the game, drive back and still be home by 1 A.M. Those days are gone forever.

  • Bri

    Gr8 points Doc and there r many more Arky coaches to put on the oops list that were local boys we ignorantly let go, número uno being of course the Bear.