Arkansas to the Big 12?
While some Razorbacks fans might be quick to pooh-pooh such a notion, such a move actually makes a certain kind of sense.
Before getting into why Arkansas might possibly be a good it in the Big 12, let’s run through a quick review of why this topic has come to light. On June 10, the University of Colorado accepted an invitation to join the Pac 10 effective in 2012. A day later, the University of Nebraska announced it would be leaving for the Big 10 next year.
With the Big 12 down two teams, people started to wonder whether the league would collapse. One popular theory was that the Big 10 and Pac 10 would expand and absorb the remaining Big 12 teams.
Offers were made by the Big 10 and Pac 10 to the remaining Big 12 teams and those offers were declined. Meanwhile, Big 12 officials have been asked to consider adding the University of Houston to the conference while more than a few people (including the infamous Jerry Jones) have stated that Arkansas and Notre Dame would make a good additions to the league.
That move would also make sense in a way. Why? Let’s review.
Location, location, location
Pull out a map of the United States sometime and you’ll notice that every team in the SEC (including Louisiana State) lies east of the Mississippi River. Well, every team but Arkansas, at least.
That’s boundary is quite significant and is pointed to by many as the dividing line between the southeastern part of the country and the southwest. Sure, people might argue that — culturally and geographically — the Delta region of the state and even central Arkansas have a lot in column with the Southeast. That would be a great argument, indeed, if the University of Arkansas was located in, say, Helena or West Memphis.
Ah, but the U of A is in Fayetteville — an area of the world that is pretty darn close to those Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas schools that make up the Big 12. Indeed, even Iowa state isn’t that far away from Fayetteville compared to SEC schools such as Florida and South Carolina.
Arkansas, see, is kind of like the isolated stepchild in the SEC, leaving Hogs fans to drive almost halfway across the country to see their team play some of its games. Compare that to the comparatively easy trips to see the Razorbacks play in states that actually border Arkansas (Kansas and Iowa excluded, of course, but you get the idea).
In short, those Big 12 teams — like it or not — are located in the same area of the country (for the most part) as the Razorbacks. In addition to the obvious convenience for fans, think about how much easier it would be to recruit Big 12 teams in states such as Texas and Oklahoma than it would be to try to drag them out of Florida or Georgia to Arkansas. Even now, Arkansas recruits pretty well in the Big 12 due to geographic proximity — imagine how much easier a job that would be if the Hogs were in the same conference the kids they’re wooing grew up following.
Rivalry? What rivalry?
Interestingly enough, Arkansas is rather used to the playing the role of the redheaded stepchild. In the old Southwest Conference (SWC) you had a bunch of schools from Texas and … Arkansas. In the SEC you’ve got a bunch of teams east of the Mississippi River and … Arkansas.
Arkansas announced it was leaving the SWC in 1990 to go be the stepchild in another conference, but there is a major difference between those old SWC days and now. At least Arkansas had a rivalry against Texas and, in fact, a good number of Razorbacks fans get a lot more worked up about the Longhorns than they do about most SEC teams (Ole Miss might be an occasional exception, but that has to do more than a rascal former Hogs football coach than the team itself).
Yes, Arkansas tried to drum up a rivalry against Louisiana State with that ridiculous “golden boot” trophy, but that hasn’t worked out too well. The Hogs and the Tigers battle it out every year after Thanksgiving, but the excitement amongst Hogs fans over that game is nothing compared to the mania that was everywhere in this state in the SWC days when Arkansas played Texas.
I well remember my hometown of Benton being pretty well empty every year when that game was played — everyone was at the game or watching it on television. Arkansas hasn’t been in the same conference as Texas for close to 20 years now, yet it’s very common to see inverted Longhorns emblems on cars in this state and getting sucked into conversations during football season where someone is cussing Texas up one side and down the other.
Sure, some people will argue that Longhorns fans took that rivalry a lot less seriously than Razorbacks fans did, but there are more than a few facts that suggest otherwise. Back when Arkansas and Texas were fighting it out for national and conference rankings, emotions ran high on both sides. Furthermore, just ask my wife’s grandmother about the time she was visiting in Texas when the Hogs were in town and found egg shells embedded in the paint of her new car after the game (and she wasn’t parked near the stadium, folks).
Reigniting that rivalry makes a lot of sense. So does joining the same conference as the team that a lot of Arkansans still love to see the Hogs play and beat.
A common argument among Razorbacks fans is that the University of Arkansas makes a heck of a lot of money by virtue of its membership in the SEC. Indeed, the SEC distributed $209 million to teams ($17.3 million per school on average) this year, compared to a payout of $139 million distributed by the Big 12 (an average is hard to come up with as some schools are treated more equally than others in that conference).
The difference, of course, has involved television revenue. The SEC has some great television contracts, whereas the Big 12 has meager ones by comparison. However, there are deals being worked out that promise to boost Big 12 revenue higher. In other words, the disparity of payouts between the two leagues may no longer be an issue — it still seems patently unfair that some Big 12 schools receive more cash than others, but there’s something to be said for rewarding success.
The competition isn’t as strong in the Big 12
When it comes to football, it’s hard to argue against that. The SEC has been home to a lot of NCAA champions and highly-ranked teams, after all (Arkansas is a bit of a stepchild in that regard, too, by the way). Meanwhile, Texas and Oklahoma have a great history and Texas A&M — quite often — isn’t a team to sneeze at, either.
In terms of basketball, however, the Big 12 has put a lot of outstanding teams on the court. That used to be true of the SEC but, well, the conference has been down. For about a decade.
Arkansas will lose respect if it leaves the SEC
That argument has been thrown about for years. However, consider this — Arkansas has rarely been anything but a middle-tier team in the SEC. After almost two decades, the Hogs haven’t achieved much of note in football and — with the exception of a few great years in the mid-1990s — have never been a consistent power in basketball. The Hogs, of course, excel at sports like baseball and track, but people tend to focus on the revenue-producing football and basketball programs when determining the success of an athletic program.
Will the teams that routinely beat the tar out of the Razorbacks respect the team any less if it goes to another conference? Will anyone who witnessed the embarrassing performance of the team in the Las Vegas or Music City bowls when Houston Nutt was in charge respect the Razorbacks any less should the university join the Big 12?
One has to wonder…
Long says Arkansas is staying put
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long said the Hogs are happy in the SEC and wouldn’t dream of leaving. Gee, haven’t we heard this kind of thing from coaches before? Does Long’s statement that the Razorbacks are happy where they are translate into “we’re right in the middle of negotiations but don’t want to tell you about it?”
Look at it this way. More than a couple of coaches have held press conferences swearing they are thrilled with their jobs and have no interest in leaving. What happens next? They’ll hold another press conference saying they’ve cherished their time at ABC University but they’re heading to XYC University.
Do the same rules apply to athletic directors, or do they avoid engaging in such thinly-veiled deception?
Well, there isn’t one. However, the notion that Arkansas might head to the Big 12 isn’t totally without merit. Knowing Arkansans, we’ll hear a lot of speculation, stories floated by “insiders” and the like in the months to come.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.