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The Absurdities of the Arkansas vs ASU Debate

When the Arkansas legislature developed a bill for Arkansas to play Arkansas State a couple of weeks ago, besides reigniting the unholy alliance of sports and politics, it immediately brought out folks on both sides of the issue to spew the same tired half-truths they’ve been saying for years. It’s maddening.

The Pride of the Red Wolves
The Pride of the Red Wolves
Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

This is a column pointing out the silliness on both sides of this debate. You can read the whole thing on Sporting Life Arkansas here.

“UA doesn’t have a good reason not to play ASU”

And they don’t need one.

This isn’t a court of law. Legal precedents don’t apply. The opinion in the case of School Bullies v. Dorks is all UA needs. If Jeff Long wanted to put up a billboard near the ASU campus with nothing but a picture of a Razorback giving the finger in ASU’s direction with the headline “Our Policy,” he could do that. This is why UA repeats the line about dividing the state and then drops the mic.

“ASU would never beat UA”

If the game had been scheduled last November, when Gus Malzahn had the Red Wolves rolling and the Razorbacks were mailing it in, do many people really think Arkansas State couldn’t have pulled off the victory? Or 2008 when the Red Wolves won in College Station and Arkansas barely squeaked by Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe? At the very least it would have been a good game.

“Let’s keep the money in state”

The most ridiculous part of the bill to play this game is the complete avoidance of the financial aspects of the game. My theory is the only reason they added the part about donating the ticket revenue to charity is because they knew it would be difficult to come up with a real solution that would work for both parties. It’s a total cop-out.

I’m all for charity, but telling the schools, whose athletic departments rely heavily on the seven or eight home football games each year, that they’d have to give away revenues from one of those games is laughable.

So how to split the ticket revenue if the schools kept it? This is where the logistics of the game get complicated. The bill only calls for one game, but we all know that if the game happened once, there would be demand for it to happen again. Even if it takes place in War Memorial, the game only makes financial sense for UA if they keep all the ticket revenue, just as they currently do for their games in Little Rock. Let’s say the schools split the ticket money 50/50. At 26,000 tickets at UA’s current non-conference game in Little Rock ticket price of $55, that would come out to $1.43 million that they’d give away to ASU. That’s significantly more than what UA would save by not paying the usual non-conference game fee, which is rarely more than $1 million.

And even if the ticket money went to charity, that would mean the ASU game financially would be a road game for UA since they wouldn’t make money from it. Considering the possibility of a 9-game SEC schedule when the SEC Network kicks off (look ahead to Mike Slive’s announcement in April), Arkansas may then have six road games on its schedule, which Jeff Long has said he tries to avoid for obvious reasons (This also ignores the possibility of schools increasing their strength of schedule to accommodate the upcoming playoff selection criteria, but that’s another topic for another day).

Even from ASU’s perspective, it’d be interesting to see how they handled the scheduling of the game. For the last several years, they’ve scheduled at least two non-conference road games for which they’ve pocketed at least $1.5 million, topping out at $1.95 million from Oregon and Nebraska in 2012. The legislation didn’t call for UA to pay ASU anything to play the game, so would ASU be willing to forego a $1 million payday to play it? If all we’re doing is replacing the money ASU would get for a non-conference game and letting UA keep the money they’d pay for a non-conference game, that’s a wash in terms of keeping the money in state.

In fact, you can even argue it could cost the state money. If ASU gave up a $1 million game to play Arkansas, and the Razorbacks didn’t schedule, say, an $850,000 game (the Tulsa payout from 2012), that would be a net loss of $150,000 coming into the state instead of a net gain of $150,000. (The rate both schools pay/receive for non-conference games varies, but the math could easily work this way.)

ASU’s other option would be to replace one of their other non-conference games with Arkansas. The downside for this would be replacing a game scheduled for a decent chance of winning (Alcorn State, Memphis, UCA, Navy, Mississippi Valley State in recent years) with a game they’d lose more often than not (hurting opportunities for winning seasons and bowl bids), and it would take a game away from Jonesboro each year. Know what Jonesboro hotels and restaurants call this? The shaft.

Because at this point we reach a very basic economic principle: two games in the state generate more revenue than one.

Again, you can read the entire column here.


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 hereand follow him on Twitter.