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Arkansas to the Big 12?

By: 23 June 2010 17 Comments

There’s been a lot of talk floating around lately about Arkansas leaving the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and heading 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.

Revenue

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?

Conclusion

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.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

17 Comments »

  • whatitis said:

    I’m from Austin and a Longhorn fan, but I’ve lived in Arkansas. I know the people here in Austin want the Razorbacks in the Big 12, and people I know from Arkansas would love to see the old Texas vs. Arkansas rivalry come back.

    Fayetteville is a beautiful town that is a great place to visit, and I even have some family up there in Arkansas. I loved the old rivalry we had, and you can imagine some of the internal family feuds we had with that, all in fun of course. Oh, what fun.

    Please, come home, Arkansas.

  • Skywalker said:

    Your article fails to mention that the Big 12 likely will not survive this decade. It nearly met its demise a few weeks ago. It’s completely unstable. Dan Beebe only saved it by bowing at the Longhorn Altar and paying tribute. It won’t be long before Burnt Orange Nation finds a better deal and ditches the Big 12, which will then collapse.

    And if Arkansas is a part of it when that happens, we’re not guaranteed to get into another BCS conference. We might end up in the Sun Belt. Ouch.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Skywalker — well, it didn’t mention that because it’s speculation. Still, it’s something to consider and the failure of the Big 12 might come to pass.

  • T-Bone said:

    Great Article.

    Arkansas would be a great addition to the Big 12. Just think of all the Natural rivals (Texas, Texas AM, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Mizzou, Kansas. WOW.

    The Big 12 needs to strengthen itself before you could expect a school like Arkansas to join. Mainly, the Mega-Conference Question needs to get figured out. If Conferences start going to 14 or 16 teams, it appears the Big 12 will get picked apart. I would hate to see that Happen. I believe that if the “BCS” goes to a “BCS +1 or +2″ system (meaning Playoff System for Football), the Conferences will stay intact, making it easier for Arkansas to join.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    T-Bone — Thanks, and I think you’re right. There could well be a great argument against joining due to the weakness (perceived or otherwise) of the Big 12. Frankly, I’ve always thought Arkansas would be a better fit in the Big 12, anyway. Still, membership in the SEC does have its privileges.

    I suppose I’d rather root for a school that is a member of the SEC and might have options rather than one that’s stuck in Conference USA or the Mountain West. That, in itself, is a bit of a blessing.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    whatitis — One of the day’s you might well get your wish. A lot of Arkansans would love to see Arkansas renew that rivalry…

  • Matt said:

    First, Arkansas is no stepchild in football. Since the ’92 SEC expansion Arkansas has made it to the SEC Championship game 3 times. If you don’t remember we were one muffed punt and trindon holliday return away from a shot at the national title. Compare with Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Kentucky who have never made an appearance. Auburn also has 3 appearances. LSU, which has never considered a stepchild, only has 1 more appearance.

    Secondly, Skywalker is exactly right. They way I hear, none of the schools but Texas are happy with this new television contract (surprise, surprise), and that eighty of the hundred big money donors from A&M said they want to bolt. The Big 12 will dissolve and this has never been a surprise to anyone because no one from the Big 8 ever trusted Texas. If Arkansas leaves they’ll be the ones caught out in the cold when it comes crumbling down.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    I well remember those appearances. I’m painfully aware of them, in fact — Arkansas took a shellacking at the hands of Florida in 1995, was humiliated by Georgia in 2002 and continued its fine tradition of not being able to defeat Florida in 2006. I will agree, however, that Arkansas has performed better than Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Kentucky.

    My original point — and I think it still stands — is that the argument that Arkansas will lose respect if it jumps to another conference is simply not valid. The Hogs might have played in a few SEC championship games and it’s true that the Razorbacks could have made a run at a National Championship had the planets lined up just right. However, the fact remains that the Razorbacks have no SEC football titles, no BCS bowl victories earned in the SEC years and the team is regarded as a perennial middle-tier team in its current conference. Being in the SEC might be great, but I’d argue the team’s status on a national level has declined significantly since it left the SWC. The “Arkansas will lose respect” argument just seems hollow — the team doesn’t have a whole lot of respect either nationally or in its own conference.

    And, yes, the Big 12 could fold. The whole point of the article was looking at a few of the advantages of heading to the Big 12. Geographically it makes sense and joining a league where Arkansas already has a natural rival (and where others might develop) also makes sense.

    The points you raise about the instability of the Big 12 — while speculative — are also valid. If the Big 12 was regarded as more stable, however, and Arkansas could be assured a revenue stream similar to what it receives in the SEC, how would you feel about a move?

  • Gary Bright said:

    If Arkansas joins the Big 12, they would probably be added to the northern division. The Texas schools and the Oklahoma schools would make up the southern division. I dont believe the Big 12 would split OU and OSU. Arkansas would have to rotate playing these school every other year or so instead of every year. If they joined, and were in the northern division, I believe they would be playing in the championship game almost every year.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Gary — good points. Arkansas could do very well in a northern division as you described.

    Of course, the possibility that Notre Dame might be enticed into the conference has been raised…

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