Our long Cold War is officially over.
Arkansas vs Arkansas State is finally happening.
As you heard yesterday, the two sides have formally agreed to play each other for the first time in history at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock in 2025.
Under athletic director Hunter Yurachek, the Razorbacks began dipping their toes in the local pool by playing institutional affiliates UAPB and UALR in baseball, and it has only continued to gain momentum since then. The long-standing mandate that “thou shalt not play in-state schools” going back to the Barnhill and Frank Broyles era has now been lifted as the Hogs have continued to look for more nearby opportunities.
The Hogs have now played UCA in basketball and had announced a historic game against UAPB in football next season. They are already set to take on Arkansas State in baseball this year.
However, the announcement of the Arkansas vs Arkansas State game still has caught many by surprise. Perhaps it is sort of like when one country officially recognizes that another group of people within their borders are, in fact, a sovereign state. For the first time in over 100 years, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville has not only decided to take on Arkansas State, but they have also finally acknowledged their existence.
Of course, not everyone agrees with this change in domestic policy.
You have already heard it. The most common argument brought up by a vocal minority every time such a game is mentioned is that “there is zero upside and only downside.” The state’s premier institution must protect the brand by not playing other in-state schools for that would turn them into competition. A rivalry would mean that Arkansas would have to compete with Arkansas State for recruits, or in a doomsday scenario, the Razorbacks might LOSE. Perish the thought.
To that I’d say, have you been watching Razorback football this past decade? The brand has been terrible. The Hogs have lost to Louisiana-Monroe, Toledo, North Texas, San Jose State, and Western Kentucky. Losing to A-State would actually be on-brand for Arkansas based on recent results.
Yet, following these losses, no one was worried about potential recruits flipping to one of these schools.
The facts are that the Razorbacks are still an SEC team who are still capable of playing at a high level who still attract talented players. According to 247 Sports, Arkansas’ 2021 recruiting class ranks No. 24 in the country which is good for No. 8 in the SEC. Meanwhile, Arkansas State currently ranks at No. 106 in the nation according to the same site. This has basically been par for the course over the last few years. Even Chad Morris, the worst coach in Arkansas history, could still convince players to come to Fayetteville, so this gap is not going to close even if the Hogs somehow lose to an in-state opponent.
While not every major program chooses to play smaller in-state schools, many still do. Ohio State has always played in-state teams and is still the flagship university in their state. Texas, despite their struggles, is still willing to play smaller programs like Rice and UTEP. Anybody who is still scared to take on Arkansas State has a fragile ego.
Hunter Yurachek knows this based on experience as the Razorback baseball team was handily beat by UALR a couple of years ago. When asked about it according to Pig Trail Nation, he said
“We actually lost our first game to Little Rock, but we still went on to the College World Series that year. And we still had top recruiting classes. Things didn’t fall apart across our state because the Razorbacks were competing against other schools within the state.”
If anything, yesterday was a big win for recruiting. The next two Missouri games will be in Fayetteville instead of Little Rock which means that coaches can have more contact with potential recruits since the games will officially be on-campus. In addition, assuming that the Hogs will still have something to play for late during the season, more people might be at the game compared to War Memorial Stadium. It will also be the last game before the new annual early signing period in December, so getting in one big final event for recruits could potentially seal the deal.
Yurachek was straightforward when it came to this saying,
“After the season Coach (Sam) Pittman and I sat down and talked about the future of our program and one of the aspects was his scheduling. One of the things he made abundantly clear to me through the course of that meeting was it was very important for our program to play as many SEC games as possible here on campus in Fayetteville.”
Meanwhile, Yurachek is also working to get the Texas A&M series back on campus which would add another SEC game at home every other year.
“What I will tell you is Ross Bjork and the folks at Texas A&M have made it abundantly clear that when the contract is over with AT&T Stadium, they would like to see those games back on campus following the 2024 season.”
Finally, it should also not be overlooked that the Razorbacks’ Spring games are also moving back to Fayetteville which is one of the biggest recruiting weekends of the year.
As for the “controversial” decision among some to continue playing at War Memorial Stadium, Yurachek said,
“So I want to thank (Heritage and Tourism) Secretary (Stacy) Hurst for really helping to bring this together. She made it abundantly clear if the University of Arkansas was to continue to have a presence in Little Rock at War Memorial Stadium that she thought they needed to be meaningful games.”
He went on to say,
“The one thing I’ve learned about the state of Arkansas since I’ve been here is that the Razorbacks are spread throughout this state, and our presence across this state is very, very important.”
Despite the critics, War Memorial has been the spiritual home of the Hogs for over 70 years. Little Rock is not just the heart of the state geographically but is arguably the heart of the fanbase. Normally, I would defend having an SEC game in Little Rock, but the current arrangement makes too much sense not to happen. By having Arkansas State (and UAPB) come to War Memorial, Yurachek strikes a perfect balance between the past and the present, the tangible and the intangible.
This continues to prove that Hunter Yurachek is the opposite of former AD Jeff Long. Long was a weak-willed pencil-pusher who preferred to be aloof in his ivory tower while Yurachek goes out to understand the people in this state. Although still early, his tenure as athletic director has been a major success as he continues to make the right moves and is committed to making Arkansas sports fun again.
There will be a buzz in War Memorial when Arkansas vs Arkansas State finally happens. With 10,000 tickets available for A-State fans, the “visitors” section will be larger and livelier than most games, especially at War Memorial.
When the Razorbacks run through that “A”, it will mean more that day. When the crowd calls the Hogs, it will not just be a declaration of your identity but also an oath of allegiance.
It will be a sea of red as everyone will come together from every corner of the land.
I’m sure it will get petty. It could become chippy. I guarantee you it will be a lot more fun than playing Western Carolina.
Whatever happens, it will be a game that no one forgets.