The heart of politics is compromise, but the cold fact of compromise is that it ultimately leaves both parties unsatisfied.
That’s where the Arkansas Razorbacks fanbase is left standing after Thursday’s announcement that the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism agreed to a six-year deal that will see the Razorbacks football team play an SEC opponent — in all likelihood Missouri — in venerable War Memorial Stadium every other year through the 2023 season.
Arkansas has played Missouri on the final playing date — Thanksgiving weekend — of the regular season in recent years, and that is expected to continue at War Memorial Stadium in 2019, 2021, and 2023, unless the SEC revises its schedule.
As part of the deal, Arkansas will also seek waivers from the SEC to play its spring football game at War Memorial Stadium in 2020, 2022 and 2024.
Current SEC legislation prohibits league schools from hosting off-campus spring football games without a waiver from the conference. Arkansas submitted and received a waiver to play its 2018 spring game at War Memorial Stadium, based on ongoing construction at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
One guesses the SEC will grant Arkansas the waiver.
Personally, I like the tradition of the Razorbacks having a playing presence in Little Rock. The Hogs have played there since the stadium opened in 1948, and former athletic directors John Barnhill and later Frank Broyles made the centrally located stadium a foundation of building Arkansas’ program into a competitive force and one of the financial giants of college athletics.
Certainly, sentimentality plays a large role in me favoring games in Little Rock. Like most longtime Razorback fans, I’ve spent many great days and nights with family and friends at War Memorial Stadium over the years. There really are too many games to list here, but I will admit for the past 10 years, the games there have been mostly forgettable.
I do think it is smart for Arkansas to maintain a playing presence in central Arkansas because it makes it easier on families located in eastern and southern Arkansas to have a live Razorback experience. While it is fantastic that all of Arkansas’ games are televised these days, there is nothing like being at a game to stoke the fires of Razorback devotion for young and old alike. For some, it’s just not feasible to travel to Fayetteville. The central location of Little Rock makes the trip easier and less expensive.
The deal sorta maintains that tradition. Playing a game every other year isn’t optimal for those staunchly in favor of Razorback games in Little Rock. It’s merely appeasement.
With that in mind, I can only see the deal as another step in Arkansas weaning its fanbase off playing games in War Memorial Stadium.
The process has been slow. Since 1999 when Arkansas began the expansion of Razorback Stadium from 52,000 to 72,000 seats which was finished for the 2001 season, the reduction of games in Little Rock has gone from as many as four a year down to two, and later one a season. The new deal cuts it to once every other year.
Unless major improvements and possibly an expansion to the stadium is made, it’s not wild speculation that by 2025 — if not before — all home games will be played in Fayetteville.
The deal stipulates that the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism make certain improvements to the stadium and that ticket-sales benchmarks be hit.
The latter isn’t as big of a concern as the former. Maintaining any structure is an ongoing expense and process, and the older the structure gets, the more expensive and problematic it becomes.
At some point the state is going to have to decide if keeping War Memorial Stadium as a viable venue for modern college athletics is truly feasible. Spending $4-$10 million every few years is really more of a Band-Aid than a true answer. The stadium needs a costly overhaul that is probably unworkable for the state. It’s not feasible for the state to spend $100 million or more on a major renovation to the stadium for only one football game every other year.
So, the message I’ve taken by the compromise announced on Thursday is that Arkansas fans should enjoy Razorback football in central Arkansas while they can.