The 2017 football season has come to a close for the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Arkansas State Red Wolves. For the Razorbacks, it was a disappointing season of 4-8 that resulted in head coach Brett Bielema being replaced by Chad Morris, most recently with SMU. The Red Wolves, on the other hand, enjoyed another successful season, although they suffered a close loss to Middle Tennessee in the Camellia Bowl.
The Red Wolves’ recent success has many football fans believing that, had the two teams played this year or in the past handful of years, the Red Wolves would be apt to come out on top. Such discussions have provided new momentum to the decade’s long debate of why Arkansas and Arkansas State don’t play one another in football.
It is likely such a match-up would create an exciting game-day atmosphere, and generate revenue for both schools. One only need to look at other in-state rivalries, such as Michigan/Michigan State, Clemson/South Carolina, Oklahoma/Oklahoma state, and Auburn/Alabama, to see the popularity associated with such games. Don’t get me wrong, a UA/ASU rivalry won’t create the national hype associated with the rivalries just mentioned, but I expect it would be a huge sporting event inside the borders of our state.
How might such a matchup come about?
One idea is legislation requiring the two teams to meet on the field. This isn’t a new concept, and it has been pursued in the past. In the 2013 regular session, Representatives Andy Mayberry and Harold Copenhaver filed House Bill 2274 that sought to require that the two teams play one another annually. That bill was presented in the house committee, but was rejected and never subject to a vote on the house or senate floor.
Similar political pressure has been applied in Texas. The in-state rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M dates back to 1894, but it ended after Texas A&M left for the Southeastern Conference in 2012. As was done in Arkansas, a bill was filed in the Texas legislature in 2013 seeking to require the annual rivalry. That bill failed to advance and the schools have yet to meet on the field since 2011.
But, in another similarity to Arkansas, Texas has a brand new athletic director in place, Chris Del Conte. Del Conte is on the record as stating that he plans to consider renewing the rivalry, and statements by the coaches suggest some momentum may be building.
It’s unlikely we will see similar legislation filed again in Arkansas, and even more unlikely it would pass. This decision should be made by the two schools and their athletic departments. With times changing, and leadership changing, it’s fair to speculate this issue is going to be seriously examined in the not too distant future. To be sure, Arkansas’ new athletic director, Hunter Yurachek, and Coach Morris are going to receive considerable pressure on the issue.
Finally, it should be noted that another hotly debated Razorback topic could be driving a push for the schools to meet. That is, will the Razorbacks continue playing games at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock?
Recently ousted UA athletic director Jeff Long was staunchly opposed to continuing games in Little Rock. It seems that Mr. Long failed to gather strong support for his position, and it very well could have played into his departure.
It makes perfect sense, many say, for the in-state rivalry to become an annual tradition and for it to be played in Little Rock. At the risk of ticking off many of my friends and family, this life-long Razorback fan tends to think the time for this game has come, and War Memorial Stadium would be an excellent venue for the Razorbacks and the Red Wolves to do battle.
Editor’s note: Justin Allen is a partner with the Little Rock-based law firm of Wright Lindsey Jennings. He leads the firm’s governmental relations group. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.