What you are about to read, I know, tests the patience of the internet attention span of most of us. So easy to move a mouse and be instantly on another topic. I do that often myself. But I think the subject of whether the Razorbacks keep a presence in Little Rock after the current contract with War Memorial Stadium runs out is one that Arkansas fans are willing to give some time to, and I hope that my writing is at a level that you will want to read until the last word of this admittedly lengthy post. So far I've not read or heard a more comprehensive case for keeping games in Little Rock, so I've tried my best to present such a case here for why I think the Hogs should not play all their home games in Fayetteville, but should continue to play in Little Rock as has been our tradition.
First, I want to make clear that I know there are a thousand things of more consequence in the world than where the Arkansas Razorbacks choose to play a college football game. Iran going nuclear. The Euro-zone near collapse. Unemployment still too high. Global climate change. Flesh eating zombies on AMC! haha. You name it. So don't worry about my perspective. I've got it under control. As a natural born worrier, I also spend arguably too much time worrying about such subjects as the ones I already mentioned. But those problems aren't the subject of this blog - and thank goodness! What I want to worry about here with you is the state of the Razorback fanbase and what I think to be the negative prospect of moving all the games to Fayetteville after the contract expires with War Memorial Stadium in a few years. Though Jeff Long says not to read anything into the moving of the LSU game, fans outside of Northwest Arkansas can't be blamed for feeling like the moving of a marquee game, necessary or not, out of Little Rock after nearly twenty years of being played there is but one step towards moving them all out.
Full disclosure here, I am a former full package season ticket holder who lives out of state, but has gone to just the Little Rock package since 2006 due mainly to affordability and accessibility. I've experienced in person such lows as the 2006 LSU game in Little Rock and such highs as the 2008 and 2010 games. Good and bad memories, but all still part of the uniting fabric that is the Hogs in Arkansas. Yet last week when the announcement was made that the LSU game was moving to Fayetteville, I think we got a look at some unraveling of that fabric as fans became known again not just as Hog fans, but as pro-Little Rock crowd vs. anti-Little Rock crowd. I had flashbacks to the pro-Nutt / anti-Nutt schism of 2007. We actually came out the better for that debate in the respect that Bobby Petrino was hired, but there's no guarantee that the wounds will heal as quickly if the result is a Fayetteville takes all.
Though message boards and listening to sports radio over the internet can't be considered a scientific measurement of opinion, it is all I had to go on last week as I tried to get the pulse of what Arkansas fans were thinking. I got the impression that there was a lot more people complaining (unfortunately, in a very derogatory fashion) about other fans complaining than there were actual fans complaining about the move itself. This is one man's survey, but geesh, anti-Little Rock crowd, why so hostile? I would have thought the vitriol would have come more from the pro-Little Rock people, but that was not my impression.
Along the same theme, the radio and message boards (the boards especially) had a lot of trashing of that "dump" known as War Memorial stadium. I will never claim WMS is a football palace, but there is not really a bad seat to be had. And isn't seeing the game the main thing anyway? I think of all the great memories it encircles and then what a shame it would be if the Hogs stopped creating them there. How many of us, if we are lucky enough to have a second home, have one just as nice and fancy as the first? But we still love going to that second home, right? And do we spend time in public trashing that second home? Yes, WMS could use some improvements, which I hope it gets and would be willing to help pay for with a higher ticket, but please don't refer to it like it belongs to an opposing team! Since 1948 it has belonged to us as Arkansans and Razorback fans as a source for bringing the state together from all of its four corners and different regions. No need to treat it like the Rodney Dangerfield of stadiums, that is with no respect.
The anti-Little Rock crowd seem to post more messages and call in more often, as far as I can tell, than the pro-Little Rock crowd. In a recent poll on the blog, also not scientific, 37 percent said they wanted Ole Miss to replace LSU, but a sizable number, 34 percent, clicked the choice of moving all the games to Fayetteville. I don't know if there has been a scientific poll done of how the state splits on the issue of Little Rock games, but the reason I think you are more likely to hear a vocal opinion from the anti-Little Rock group is that they can point to revenue and the money argument. As a people, we Americans respect balance sheet arguments. We know how to make a dollar and cents argument much better than we do a communal argument. But being the pinko commie that I am (not really, but I admit that I don't think "socialism" a dirty word), I would like to give voice to the communal or you could say populist argument.
Interestingly enough, it is a former and long dead LSU fan that I think of when I think about this argument. Huey P. Long. The former Louisiana governor's famous slogan was "Share Our Wealth," a slogan which in the current climate of the 99 percent vs. the One percent has some timely resonance. When asking the university to share the wealth that is our football team, it is worth remembering that in the greater balance nearly 100 percent of all home games involving the Razorbacks in basketball, soccer, tennis, gymnastics, baseball, track and field, and whichever sports I am leaving out take place on the campus in Fayetteville. And the majority of football home games still take place in Fayetteville.
Keep in mind that it is the state itself that shares its citizens / students from towns all over with the public university in Fayetteville. Without students from Magnolia, Eldorado, West Memphis, Ashdown, Conway, Little Rock, Osceola, Cave City, and Pine Bluff to name but a few, the university would not be what it is today. The UofA is truly a state university that the whole state takes part in making, so it has always impressed me that the UofA, unlike other universities, has a long tradition of sharing back with the state not only in the form of more educated citizens who go back to those towns, but also in the form of bringing more of the campus to the rest of the state in football games to Little Rock. You could even say I am putting too much of an altruistic spin on things from the UofA's point of view, for they knew that games in Little Rock would help over time cement a statewide following of the Hogs. And they were right. An aside, Do you see billboards across the state asking students to apply to the UofA? No, but you do see ASU billboards.
The argument goes that the UofA is in Fayetteville, so the games should be played in Fayetteville. Correct, the main campus is in Fayetteville, but the university does not restrict its business to the campus or the city limits. There are ample other instances of the UofA reaching out to the rest of the state. The medical school is in Little Rock, for instance. So is the Clinton School for Public Affairs. There are agricultural extension offices in every county. The UofA has its own community colleges in Hope and Morrilton. And because not everybody can come to Fayetteville, there are branch campuses in Monticello, Pine Bluff, Fort Smith, and Little Rock. So why shouldn't the flagship campus of the state continue its most famous and popular outreach endeavor in the form of games in Little Rock?
Revenue, that is what gets brought up. And I won't pretend that you can run a big time SEC program on good wishes alone. But at the same time, I don't think the call for more revenue (seat revenue, more specifically) should kill a tradition of playing in Little Rock that goes back to 1906, a 12-0 win over Southeast Missouri State. Weighing the additional seat revenue on a balance, which could be reduced if more seats do get added to WMS, with the goodwill that would come with keeping a presence in Little Rock beyond 2015, I think the latter outweighs the former.
Consider this as well, football is such a mercurial game. You can raise all the extra seat revenue and box seat revenue that you can and still have season defining plays go against you like Stoerner's fumble, Trindon Holiday's kick-off return, and the infamous Reggie Fish flub in the SEC Championship game. For this reason, I don't think we should let money be THE one and ONLY factor in these decisions. We are a capitalist country, but even we don't let the bottom line rule every decision. If we did, our natural parks would all be sold for their timber. The paintings in our public museums would all be sold to private collectors. New York City would develop Central Park for millions and millions of additional dollars in the city's coffers. But we don't do these things because we can see the larger societal good in not doing so.
Another argument in favor of moving all the games to Fayetteville is the transportation argument: that it is now easier to get to Fayetteville these days with the relatively new interstate, and fans across the state are just being cheap by not paying the extra amount to get to Fayetteville. I say that fans who attend Little Rock games, myself included, have recently paid extra for the right to purchase tickets. If you go to a Razorback game these days period, you aren't a cheapskate at all. And with gas likely to hit five dollars this year, I fear what the price of a drive to Fayetteville is going to be in 2016. After-all, should a public institution work towards making a public function the purview of just the wealthiest amongst us? Call me idealistic, but I think as much as possible, they should do what they can to fight that tendency. Putting games in the population center of the state goes towards that end. Greater ease of accessibility works for hospitals, state government, and museums at the center of the state, so why shouldn't it work for the Hogs, which many Arkansans would rank ahead of hospitals, state government, and museums anyway, haha.
What about recruitment? Yes, it is true. Unfortunately we can't officially host the recruits at games we play in Little Rock. But who knows how many potential recruits we are hosting in the form of the kids who attend the games at War Memorial Stadium in what is still, it bears repeating, Arkansas's population center. Darren McFadden, D.J. Williams, I believe WMS played a role in their recruitment. And our recent Warren Commission, Gragg, Wright, Childs, don't you think having games played in Little Rock, under two hours from home, had something to do with their recruitment as well?
What about staying competitive? I don't think the thing that has held the Hogs back from winning a national championship has been a non-conference game vs. a Sun Belt school and the LSU game at the end of the year being held in Little Rock. Recruits aren't turning their backs on the Hogs because they have a home away from home. We haven't gotten the big name talent lately because we are still second fiddle to LSU and Alabama when it comes to championships. They have a history of winning them. We sadly don't. Bad things can happen in the game of football no matter what field you play on, but Broyles, Holtz, Hatfield, Nutt, and now Petrino have had a lot of success while playing games in both Fayetteville and Little Rock. If any location should be banned, hah, it should be wherever we are playing a bowl game! Though I do gladfully note Petrino's 2-1 bowl record.
I will close this very lengthy post, call me Tolstoyhog, haha, by simply stating that I hope the University of Arkansas finds a way to keep sharing the wealth of excitement, tradition, and fun that is the Arkansas Razorback football team with the rest of the state in Little Rock beyond 2015. I think it would be sad to lose a good and worthwhile tradition of sharing the state's favorite team beyond the confines of Fayetteville. Sharing after-all is a virtue in and of itself. And finally, I don't think any of you who read through this long post, god bless ya, less of a Razorback fan if you disagree with any or all of what I just wrote. I hope you will afford me the same courtesy. I imagine you will. Unlike some of the radio people and many of the message boarders, we can respectively disagree, can we not? For at the end of the day, we all like the sound of "Touchdown, Arkansas!" no matter where we are from or where we hear it.