Jeremy Harper – Will A-State Ever Be a Power 5 Program?


What happens to the Red Wolves while surrounded by

Power Five Conference Teams?

It’s not advisable to obtain your truth from XM College Sports Radio. Especially in the summer, when talk show hosts are desperate for conversation. Big 12 expansion is a topic proven to ring phones and generate sales for airtime.  I listened to Taylor Zarzour ponder the possibilities of Big 12 expansion by weighing the merits of the popular candidates.

Of the nearly one dozen mentioned, Memphis and Cincinnati emerged as leaders in Zarzour’s mind.

Memphis is an established basketball power (though the Tigers may want to exploit that while the iron is still warm). The city alone boasts more than 650,000 people, and has given its full support behind its lone professional sports team, the NBA’s Grizzlies. The baseball team is competitive. And the once decrepit football program is flourishing under Justin Fuentes, who has a P5-ready stadium in the Liberty Bowl.

Memphis’ athletic director, Tom Bowen, recently announced plans for a new indoor practice facility, and has been on record for saying that when the Big 12 is ready to expand, Memphis will be prepared to compete for a coveted position.

Geographically, Memphis makes more sense than Central Florida, East Carolina and BYU. The Tigers have as much sports juice as Colorado State and Houston. Cincinnati is a strong candidate, too, though a move to the ACC seems like a better fit.

Where does that leave Arkansas State?

Make no mistake, A-State is rarely mentioned in the Big 12 conversation. And when it is, the idea is quickly dismissed. Additionally, there are other Sun Belt programs scratching the same Power Five itch, including ULL and Georgia Southern. But should Memphis rate an invitation to the Big 12, how does it affect A-State?

Consider that putting Memphis in the Big 12 places A-State in a Power 5 sandwich with the SEC just 288 miles west. Nearly the same distance due north, is Missouri. One might view this situation as three P5 programs that make for three natural rivalries.

But we know how that plays out.

Whether a Big 12 neighbor aids or hinders recruiting is a question that I lack the sagacity to answer. But I can, at least, throw out a few recommendations for how A-State can not only benefit from Big 12 expansion, but even become part of the expansion conversation.

1. Beat Missouri. (And later, beat Miami.) Memphis’ brawl-spoiled defeat of BYU at the Miami Beach Bowl demonstrated its readiness for next level play. Arkansas State must prove, on a national scale, that the program is talented enough to give wealthier programs a competitive game. With two P5 programs set to visit Jonesboro in the next three seasons, the Red Wolves have opportunity to make an important statement. 

2. Maintain Momentum. The A-State Troika of Mohajir, Welch and Hudson has elevated the university to incredible heights in just five years. Now is not the time to rest on present success. The osteopathic medical school and the campus in Mexico are huge keys to expanding A-State’s footprint in terms of fan base and donor dollars. What’s next for the Troika? 

3. Fans Rule. The Pack Pride is stronger than ever, and more fans are all-in on the Red Wolves. This year, the administration has announced a record year for season ticket sales, and we have an almost-guaranteed chance for shattering attendance in 2015. Like Mohajir, we as fans can’t afford to take our foot off the gas.

4. Invest in Baseball and Basketball. Expansion is a package deal. The Memphis Tigers are part of the Big 12 conversation based on the (flagging) strength of their basketball program. But the football team has seen big improvement, and yeah, people are noticing. Meanwhile, Red Wolves men’s hoops have staggered into disarray, and while the baseball team is competitive, it needs to achieve the same kind of success ULL has enjoyed. And it’s not just on the university; it’s on us, too. We need to recognize that men’s hoops is rebuilding, and we nee to pour on the fan support to help it grow.

5. Embrace the Sun Belt. Listen, y’all, we’re in the Sun Belt and it ain’t bad. While the conference is still green, the programs are getting much stronger. Last year, it was difficult to enjoy conference play because there were just too many newbies and unknowns. This year, we’re more than merely introduced to Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and the others. They’re our rivals. We have scores to settle. And an entertaining conference battle between several Sun Belt programs will elevate all of us. It’s time to subscribe to Sun Belt Heat.

Will A-State ever be a Power Five program? I don’t know. I just know the program is on an upward trajectory. And we have a front seat for the ride.

Power 5


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