Tusk to Tail 2014: Jack Clark wants some answers from Jeff Long

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 229 views 

Last Friday, Tusk to Tail weighed in on the state of the Hogs three-quarters of the way through the Bret Bielema project’s second year. Each of us praised the team’s improvement, prompting the headline, “If optimism was a super power, Tusk to Tail would be the Justice League.

Providing a counterpoint is Jack Clark, co-founder of our tailgating collective. Clark has supported the Razorbacks throughout the nation’s longest 17-game conference losing streak, but has concerns outside of the playing field. As a Veteran’s Day tribute to U.S. Army veteran Clark, Tusk to Tail presents his open letter to UA Athletic Director Jeff Long.

Dear Mr. Long:
I have been trying to contact you for some time now, yet I’ve never received a reply to my emails. I know it must be difficult to squeeze in time to catch up on things since you’ve become the Chair of the playoff committee. Between the weekly TV interviews, deciding who will get to walk in the “A Walk” each home game, selling ads for the stadium’s ribbon boards, and trying to get a better deal from RC Cola than the one from Pepsi must be exhausting.

I assume that as AD, you get gym privileges so you are obviously taking good care of yourself. I will also give you credit for taking good care of your career. Boy, has it blossomed since you arrived back in 2007. Let’s go back to when you started here for just a moment.

You were hired in 2007 to take over after the aging legend Frank Broyles. As I’m sure you remember, the athletic program at that time was struggling. Our basketball team hadn’t made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament in eight years and our football team, despite being loaded with NFL talent and fresh off a win at #1 LSU, had just finished one of the more disappointing seasons in recent years. With a shiny new $450,000 contract you were brought in to help us “compete in the SEC.”

One of your first endeavors while AD was the football stadium “ribbon” scoreboard fund raiser, and you lectured the Arkansas fans that competing in the SEC isn’t just about winning football games. It’s about building a program. Part of building a program, according to you, meant that the current facilities and Razorback stadium needed attention.

You convinced me and countless other Razorback fans that we should start with video ribbon boards along the bottom of the upper deck. We were promised live scores from around the SEC during Hog games and even improved game stats. Who wouldn’t like that? I recall eagerly writing my check, anxious to be in on the ground floor of this soon-to-be SEC superpower.

But that’s not what the fans got when the 2008 season started. What we got was 3 and a half hours of Petit Jean Meats and Lindsey & Associates ads thrust into our faces for six years. The brilliant part is that YOU convinced US to pay for it.

Not long after that came the “Answer the Call” campaign. The athletic department needed funds to pay Bobby Petrino and his coaching staff nearly five million dollars. Although it did seem odd to ask for MORE money after a 5-7 season, you asked the fans for help, and many jumped in again, including me, to increase their donations to the foundation. We wanted to help “build the program.” Despite my upper deck seats, and despite the fact that I would miss entire quarters of football to get a Coke (no TV’s and concession stands, only two bathrooms in upper deck), and despite the fact that I couldn’t even get a drink with ice (bottled beverages only in upper deck), I “answered the call” and kept donating money.

At this same time, you sat idly while John Pelphrey kicked player after player off his basketball team that never played .500 ball in the SEC. Attendance at basketball games was at an all-time low and one could have walked into Bud Walton arena ticketless and wearing only a red shirt and sat at half court for free. I waited three long years for you to take action with the basketball team.

Next, you did the unthinkable and made Pepsi the official drink of Razorback stadium, instead of Coca Cola. Clearly you worked out a better deal with Pepsi. However, has any self-respecting southerner ever chosen Pepsi over Coke? EVER? A good friend would later lament that he now has to smuggle in bourbon AND Coke. Whose idea was that anyway? And when will we get Coke back?

In the spring after our Sugar Bowl loss, it was announced that season ticket holders would now be ranked according to “priority points.” That sounds all good on paper, but the reality is that you and the foundation alienated many fans like myself. Despite having been to nearly every football game, home and away, for almost 10 years, my low priority point score meant that I might not get tickets through the university for future bowl games. Big donors who may or may not even attend games are given preference. Alas, in the event that the Hogs made another BCS game, I would probably be at the mercy of ticket scalpers. Perhaps this is the norm all over the country. But it sure seemed like you began to not see me as a fan anymore. It seemed like you only saw me as a customer.

Despite this and after our big Cotton Bowl win in 2010, I decided that I would upgrade my seats and move to the lower level. I had fantastic seats to watch every game coached by John L. Smith that year. I spent nearly $9,000 that season to watch us get our butts kicked every Saturday. I didn’t read the Sunday sports page for three months.

It was tough to see my team lose each week. We lost to Alabama 52-0 in our own stadium. I’d never experienced anything like that. I had a friend from Alabama sit with me that day and after the game, as we walked past the  construction of the new “football operations center,” he commented that it seemed ironic that we were building such a grand facility having just had our asses handed to us. We both agreed that it seemed excessive when you consider how well the team was playing.

Not long after this, you received a pay raise and bonus worth nearly $300,000 per year, making your annual pay, before incentives, almost $1 million. That would mean that in 6 years your pay has increased 100% and makes you one of the top 10 highest paid AD’s in college sports. I researched a little and found that the incentives built into your contract could raise your pay to nearly $1.6 million a year, making you the third highest paid AD in the country. Amazing when you consider our basketball team hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in years, and our football team sits in the cellar of the SEC West.

While you may be accumulating wealth, you have all but killed any hope for future games in Little Rock. It’s as if you are intentionally scheduling a weak opponent next year in the hopes that attendance will be low, thereby further justifying your decision to move all games to Fayetteville. Somehow you managed to simultaneously upset season ticket holders AND the casual Little Rock fan with the ridiculous ticket pricing for the Georgia game. Why such disdain for central Arkansas fans?

What would it take to have a game day experience to rival that of other SEC schools? The first home game this year might have been the worst game day production in my lifetime. The audio and video were awful – junior high level production at best. Is this what a $300 ticket gets you at other schools? The answer is no. I’ve been to all but one of the SEC stadiums, as well as USC, Notre Dame, Texas, and everywhere else the Hogs have played. The fact is that we are WAY behind in terms of entertainment value. How many more times do we have to hear Bon Jovi at a Razorback game? How many times do we have to do the silly “Go Hogs” spell-out at halftime? Can I get a Coke? TV’s in the concession stands? Do we have more than one video to play on the jumbotron? What would you expect for $300 a ticket?

Do you remember when John L. was our coach and we thought we could just “hand him the keys to the Ferrari” and hope he wouldn’t wreck it? Well, now we are paying for a Ferrari but getting pulled around in a mule cart. I joke with friends that the day is coming that only fans who purchase wrist bands from officially licensed university vendors will be allowed to call the hogs in future games. Is this the future of Razorback football? We are paying for everything and getting nothing while you line your pockets.

Everyone keeps saying that because you are the Chair of the inaugural NCAA football playoff committee will bring added prestige to the Hogs and that we will benefit by YOUR success. Frankly, I don’t see how the program gets any benefit from you or your new position. How does the program benefit from you?

It has also been said that we need a man of your caliber to lead the program through the SEC and to help us compete within our conference. I would argue that the SEC is a hot commodity right now and we don’t need you to be successful. Everyone wants a piece of the action now.

It seems to me that YOU need the Razorbacks more than we need you.

Sincerely,
Jack Clark