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State of play: Only Hogs rebuff intrastate matchups

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Photographs by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson, left, and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema are shown during these 2014 file photos.

Representatives of the Arkansas Razorbacks and Arkansas State Red Wolves were nearly 150 miles apart when they spoke Monday, but their statements illustrated the programs are even further apart on philosophies of intrastate play.

It was about noon in Jonesboro when Arkansas State University Coach Blake Anderson said in the team’s weekly news conference that he’s happy ASU is playing the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on Saturday

“We always want to try and create an opportunity to play an in-state opponent,” he said

At the same hour, Jeff Long — the athletic director at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville — fielded a question as the guest speaker at the Little Rock Touchdown Club about whether the Razorbacks would ever play ASU.

“No,” Long simply said. “There are no plans, no discussions to play ASU. We’ve had the long-standing policy about not playing in-state schools because we feel like it divides people within the state.

“That is not new. That is something that Coach [Frank] Broyles thought about, and I’ve embraced it when I came here.”

Long’s answer received applause. Anderson’s answer prompted more questions.

The state’s three NCAA Division I football programs other than Arkansas have questions regarding the Razorbacks’ philosophy, which has kept the team from playing an in-state opponent since its 41-0 victory over Arkansas A&M (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello) on Dec. 2, 1944.

Alabama is the only member of the SEC to have as long of a streak with in-state schools that are out of conference, as the Crimson Tide beat Samford 63-7 in 1944. Ole Miss lost to Southern Miss 13-10 in 1984, but the remaining 11 conference members have all played such in-state opponents since 2014.

Both Alabama and Ole Miss annually play in-state SEC opponents Auburn and Mississippi State.

“The notion that playing an in-state team is going to divide our fan base, I don’t agree with that,” said ASU Athletic Director Terry Mohajir, whose football program lost to FCS-level Central Arkansas 28-23 last season. “We lost to UCA, and I don’t think we lost a single fan.”

Mohajir and University of Central Arkansas Athletic Director Brad Teague have scheduled another game for 2021, and Teague said “ASU is our first pick for an FBS opponent.” He also said the in-state game is valuable, win or lose, because it “galvanizes our fan base,” “opens their eyes that two D-I schools are playing each other” and that “it receives good attention” from the media.

Anderson said the loss to UCA did not factor into a drop in the Red Wolves’ recruiting class ranking, which dipped in the Sun Belt rankings from third in 2016 to seventh in 2017, according to 247Sports.

“I think people realize one game doesn’t define your team or your program — other than just having to listen to it, and having to live with it, because it’s a game we should have won,” he said. “Beyond that, bigger scope, we still had a great recruiting class, we still found a way to win a conference championship and a bowl game. So it didn’t dismantle our program in one game. That’s never going to happen.”

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reached out to Long and was referred to a recording of his Touchdown Club appearance Monday.

Mohajir said the idea that every Arkansan can be a fan for only one school is “probably not accurate,” and a football program’s overall success is a larger concern than losing to an in-state opponent.

“If you want to increase your market share in the state, you have to increase your level of production,” he said. “You don’t lose fan bases by playing other schools in the state. You lose your fan base because your level of production goes down.”

Mohajir, who was an assistant football coach at Kansas from 1993-1996, said the Jayhawks basketball team gained its large following because “they raised themselves to an elite level” — a level he says the Red Wolves can reach without a game against the Razorbacks.

“Really, for us to achieve that national brand, we have to play the Alabamas and beat the Nebraskas — the teams we haven’t yet done that against,” said Mohajir, whose program plays a 2019 game at Georgia. “That’s why we’re playing those. Playing a team in-state will not help us as much. It will be a big game inside the state. But as far as the rest of the nation, not really.”

Mohajir, Teague and UAPB Coach Monte Coleman each said playing in-state games has a symbiotic financial benefit.

ASU will pay UAPB $300,000 for the programs’ game Saturday — money Mohajir said he would rather keep in-state.

The Golden Lions had to fly to last Saturday’s game against Akron in Ohio, and Coleman said at UAPB’s weekly news conference Tuesday that the ASU game is preferable.

“To play an in-state school is beneficial all around,” said Coleman, whose team last played ASU in 2013 in a 62-11 loss. “We’ll have our band with us. We’ll have our cheerleaders. Hopefully, we’ll have some fans up in the stands.”

UCA was paid $425,000 for its 55-19 loss at Kansas State on Sept. 2, and ASU was paid $1.65 million for its 43-36 loss at Nebraska on the same date.

Arkansas will pay Coastal Carolina, which will become an FBS program next season, $1.5 million for its Nov. 4 game in Fayetteville.

“We’re hoping for that payday one day to be able to go up to Fayetteville and play Arkansas,” Coleman said. “We don’t know. Keeping our fingers crossed.”

“It’s well-known they’re not going to play anybody instate, so why try?” Teague said. “We know they won’t.”

Last time SEC schools played in-state opponents in out-of-conference play

SEC team;year;opponent;result

Alabama;1944;Samford;W, 63-7

Arkansas;1944;Arkansas A&M;W, 41-0

Auburn;2016;Alabama A&M;W, 55-0

Florida;2015;Florida Atlantic;W, 20-14

Georgia;2016;Georgia Tech;L, 28-27

Kentucky;2017;Eastern Kentucky;W, 27-16

LSU;2014;Louisiana-Monroe;W, 31-0

Mississippi State;2015;Southern Miss;W, 34-16

Missouri;2017;Missouri State;W, 72-43

Ole Miss;1984;Southern Miss;L, 13-10

South Carolina;2016;Clemson;L, 56-7

Tennessee;2016;Tennessee Tech;W, 55-0

Texas A&M;2016;UT-San Antonio;W, 23-10

Vanderbilt;2017;Middle Tennessee State;W, 28-6

Comments

Jfish says...

If you are a confident Division I program, you should not shy away from playing anyone, especially on your own campus or in Little Rock. I believe with the UA's current philosophy and non-conference schedule, they are beginning to lose fans. This is your program Jeff Long, not Frank Broyles' now.

Posted 13 September 2017, 7:47 a.m. Suggest removal

KingCoyote says...

Not for a minute do I believe that stuff about splitting the allegiances of the state by playing in state rivals. UAF is simply afraid of losing to a smaller in state college. This could very well be one of the years an A-State sticks it to UAF. Besides, you should keep the money in the state instead of paying $750,000 to an out of state institution.

Posted 13 September 2017, 7:57 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

Although not consecutively, LSU has played Tulane and other Louisiana schools in football (and other sports) long before 2014, and occasionally losing to some. Is there any doubt which program in Louisiana is dominant?

UAF is NW Arkansas' team as far as I'm concerned, and this only cements the idea. To me they might as well be in Ohio.

Posted 13 September 2017, 8:15 a.m. Suggest removal

jwat2000 says...

UAF paid Florida A&M $750,000 to travel from Tallahassee to Little Rock for a game. A comparable school, UAPB, is down the road and could have used that money. Heck, UAPB could have slept in their own beds, ate at the school dining facility and car pooled to Little Rock for the game. The game would most likely been sold out. All that money would have stayed in state.
Oh well.

Posted 13 September 2017, 8:23 a.m. Suggest removal

nc72211 says...

Jeff Long has a couple of problems. First, he was pretty stupid to comment in a manner that brings this up in the first place. His response should have been about the progress and enhancement of his program. Is AR really worried about their limited support? A game with ASU is going to hurt Them in support and money? BS. Second problem is big Jeff is losing his central and southern AR support, not from playing ASU, but by string them along over a period of years about the game in LR he wishes he could have cancelled a few years back. He has a unique way of saying it's about the money. This is really Jeff's bigger problem. he has a self created screw up with the LR fans. He has a solution in front of him. He could have a contract with ASU playing every other year in LR . He gets a full stadium at higher ticket prices and a home game at Fvlle every other year. Jeff proves you don't have to really be smart to make the big bucks

Posted 13 September 2017, 8:35 a.m. Suggest removal

hah406 says...

You all make me laugh. You complain about the Hogs not playing quality opponents and use it as an excuse to not go to games. Someone let me know when ASU or UCA are on par with a TCU, or Mississippi State. You complain about ticket prices, but then suggest we could charge much higher prices for a game against ASU and sellout the stadium. I don't believe that for one minute. And from the look of the stadium last Saturday, everyone from LR and southern Arkansas saying they won't go to Fayetteville to games isn't a problem. 75,000 fans in attendance.

Posted 13 September 2017, 9:12 a.m. Suggest removal

tomrob says...

who would want to see 2 mediocre at best teams play anyway???...yawn

Posted 13 September 2017, 9:15 a.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

~70% of those 75,000 aren't from NWA according to UAF's own published data. Be careful what you wish for.

Posted 13 September 2017, 9:16 a.m. Suggest removal

hurricane46 says...

Arkansas is one of less than 30 programs in the country that don't take state money or charge students fees for athletics. But it's funny, with all that money they still put out a mediocre product, hell, even the great Ohio State is not afraid to play an in-state school.

Posted 13 September 2017, 9:49 a.m. Suggest removal

TravisBickle says...

There goes Long talking French again. Who is the "we" that he keeps referring to? "WE" feel like it divides people within the state." I've got news for you, Long, people in this state ARE divided on their loyalties to a particular program. Broyles is gone, it's time to join the 21st century. As bad as the Hogs are faring in the SEC at least it would give their fans something to brag about in-state. @nc72211, you got that right about Long. He's just a carpetbagger.

Posted 13 September 2017, 10:31 a.m. Suggest removal

hogfan2012 says...

Jeff Long is nothing but a glorified fundraiser. I don't know why they gave him the title of Athletic Director - there is nothing athletic about him or his background. Make him the Sports Marketing Director, let him continue to suck the Walton family dry building his spectacular facilities that pathetic (can't even call them mediocre at this point) teams play in.

Posted 13 September 2017, 10:32 a.m. Suggest removal

hurricane46 says...

Anderson and CBB want to play the game, why isn't Long listening?

Posted 13 September 2017, 10:45 a.m. Suggest removal

TravisBickle says...

Arkansas is Long' seventh administrative job. I'm pretty sure that Oklahoma plays Oklahoma State every year. Pitt plays Penn State. Rice plays Houston. Michigan plays Michigan State. Virginia Tech plays Virginia. Eastern Kentucky plays Kentucky. Not sure what they're afraid of or the logic behind it.

Posted 13 September 2017, 11 a.m. Suggest removal

KnuckleBall says...

Jeff Long needs to go.... ASU would be a better game that Florida State and the stadium would have been full. I for one would like to see the money stay in the State. Play the games in Little Rock charge an extra $20 per ticket. There are kids going to ASU that are Razorback fans and I am sure that there is kids at Fayetteville that are ASU fans. Playing this game today would not split the state, however if things don't improve on the Hill, some of the money going to the Razorback Foundation will dry up.

ASU on a good year would beat the Hogs or maybe that is what Jeff Long is worried about that the product at ASU is better than his, the last few years even with all the coaches moving on after 1 season.

Posted 13 September 2017, 11:04 a.m. Suggest removal

TravisBickle says...

Hey, Allen, is ASU or UCA on par with the Rattlers??!!

Posted 13 September 2017, 11:04 a.m. Suggest removal

Goad says...

Move razorback team to UALR where out of state athletes can be recruited. Cannot recruit to Fayettville the top athletes. Other option, become member of less competitive conference.

Posted 13 September 2017, 11:29 a.m. Suggest removal

hah406 says...

Travis, of course the Rattlers are an FCS team, which everyone gets to play one per year. But people are making it sound like ASU is the same as Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, etc. They simply aren't that. And 70% of the fans aren't coming from outside NWA. If you haven't noticed, the population of NWA is almost larger than the LR metro. I would say 60% of the attendance in Fayetteville is within a two hour drive.

Posted 13 September 2017, 12:37 p.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

"And 70% of the fans aren't coming from outside NWA."
.
That comes from the university's own report. Although I think the actual number was 66%. Forgive my rounding up. But yes, 66% from OUTSIDE of NWA as per UAF. Deal with it.

Posted 13 September 2017, 12:43 p.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

Oh sorry again. 66% outside of NWA in 2011. 74.5% outside of NWA in 2014.

Posted 13 September 2017, 12:51 p.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

I am not only amazed but impressed that the Demozette would go against UAF like this. Maybe there is hope for this state after all.

Posted 13 September 2017, 8:27 p.m. Suggest removal

GCW says...

Arkansas is too poor to support more than one football program.

Posted 13 September 2017, 9:52 p.m. Suggest removal

1961Feegis says...

By the looks of previous year "warm up" games, the Razorbacks most likely wouldn't schedule a team like ASU because ASU is a 10x better quality team than what UAF typically schedules for warm up games. I can see all those Touchdown Club attendees with barbecue stained razorback shirts clapping their hands and nodding their heads in agreement when Long made his comments (talk about echo chambers). ASU has come a long way in many respects since I was there some years ago. We wanted a game then and wondered how long the UAF would run from us then. Right now were going on 30 plus years. In the meantime, playing UCA and UAPB has not divided my loyalties, instead it has created respect for those schools and given me the opportunity to good naturedly trash talk with my friends from both schools while digging in my support for ASU. Wolves Up! Go anyone playing the hogs!

Posted 14 September 2017, 8:47 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

ASU will get my $$ long before UA does.

Posted 14 September 2017, 9:30 a.m. Suggest removal

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