UPDATE MARCH 12, 2013
Editor’s Note: Legislation has been filed in the Arkansas House of Representatives to force a football game be played in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium between the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University, with some of the revenue from the game going to charity. Slim details on the legislation, as filed, is here.
It’s happening in Alabama on Saturday. And in Florida. And in Georgia. And in South Carolina and even Mississippi. But you won’t find it in Arkansas, and we’re all missing out.
I’m talking about the in-state rivalry. It’s special. A completely different type of competition. The match that makes a friendly co-worker your mortal enemy one weekend every year. It divides neighborhoods, Sunday School classes and even families. And best of all, it’s pure fun.
The in-state rivalry may not be the biggest game of the year — no one thinks Saban is remotely concerned about the hot mess Chizik is dead-bolting in their dorms tonight — but it’s still important. Between the sold-out stadium crowds, house-divided tailgates and year-long bragging rights, a game like this only gets better every season.
It’s about turning everyday camaraderie into “clean old-fashioned hate.” That’s how the Georgia-Georgia Tech game is branded.
My fellow UGA alums are serious about marking our annual hate week. Anti-Tech memes have dominated my Facebook feed for the last few days. I’m getting a near constant stream of text and e-mail jokes (“What do you call a Georgia Tech fan with an ACC championship ring?” “A thief.”) It won’t stop until Sunday.
Arkansas needs a Division I in-state rivalry of its own, if for no other reason than to carry on a strong Southern football tradition. Sure, yesterday’s LSU game is always a big deal to Razorback fans. But it’s not the same thing. Everyone has border-state rivalries. The trash talk is feistier and the animosity runs even deeper when one team can truly claim it runs this state.
Just look at the excitement that surrounds the OBU-Henderson State contest each year. They’ve been playing since 1895, and it’s still the most anticipated game on both teams’ schedules.
I’ve always been puzzled that Arkansas State fans seem to love the Razorbacks just as much if not more than their own team. This is completely foreign to the faithful from other states. Can you even imagine an Ole Miss diehard clanging one of those obnoxious Mississippi State cowbells? But every weekend hordes of ASU fans root for the Razorbacks. Many of them even head to Fayetteville to do it.
Yes, some believe the “undivided fan base” is a rare gem. I say get over it. Stop being polite. Give into the hate, people. Schedule a Razorbacks-Red Wolves game!
UA-ASU already has the makings of an excellent feud. Who doesn’t love the drama that continues to surround a game that’s never even been scheduled? Big SEC team evades potentially challenging game with a Sun Belt program? Former offensive coordinator at one now the head coach of the other, and is even on the record as wanting it to happen? You can’t hire a scriptwriter to imagine a better history for the birth of an in-state rivalry.
I’m tired of hearing Razorback fans say that UA wouldn’t benefit from playing ASU. Yes, it would. In-state rivalries pull national attention because everyone loves a good storyline and a solid grudge. You’ll see the narrative all day long this Saturday. And if anything, the history would raise the profile of this game even more. It would probably attract network coverage — not just crap pay-per-view deals — and maybe even generate appeal among local recruits for whoever dominates the series.
I come at this from an outsider’s perspective, of course. I just know it would be fun for the fans and keep big money in the state. Don’t over think it. This kind of game is purely about emotion, about getting fired up.
Stage the game in Little Rock — which will obviously benefit economically — and watch the hate flourish. After just a few matches, I bet GameDay will want a piece of that action. (I’m not trying to open any old wounds here, I promise. Unless that helps …)
Because Arkansas played on Friday this weekend, Razorback fans may be looking for Saturday entertainment. Here’s a suggestion: Flip the flat-screen over to one of the in-state rivalries and just look at how much fun they’re all having. And how everyone is talking about these contests on all the major networks and fan boards. Isn’t it time for Arkansans to have a piece of that action, too?