Arkansas Refuses to Play Arkansas State (Still). Hogwash


Every so often, a reminder that Arkansas refuses to play Arkansas State resurfaces, and I am reminded once more that not all college football traditions need upholding.

A column in Thursday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette broached the subject anew, prompting Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema to reiterate the program’s timetable for playing Arkansas State: “Never.”

Bielema offered reasons that have some superficial logic, citing a working relationship with Redwolves head coach Blake Anderson that included both recruiting strategy and work together on satellite camps. Sound reasoning, though it neglects certainly realities.

As an SEC West program, Arkansas isn’t pursuing the same players as Sun Belt member Arkansas State along the recruiting trail. Four-and-five-star talent isn’t spurning the Razorbacks because Arkansas refuses to play Arkansas State, and that will not change if the two programs meet every few years.

On the topic of satellite camps, Ohio State coaches worked satellite camps this offseason with Big Ten East counterpart Rutgers. Urban Meyer got some motivation from rival Jim Harbaugh at Michigan invading New Jersey, but the point remains that two Big Ten schools working together means an SEC and Sun Belt program can continue cooperating on camps despite playing.

Reality is Arkansas refuses to play Arkansas State in 2016 because it did so for the past eight decades, and anything else is a smokescreen.

Establishing its place as the flagship university and football program of the state proved paramount for Arkansas nearly a century ago.

Either Bielema or athletic director Jeff Long can land on an aircraft carrier with a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner behind them. Arkansas won that race long ago, and wouldn’t be conceding ground with a non-conference meeting every few seasons.

Even a hypothetical defeat will not alter the state’s power structure. The SEC didn’t throw Arkansas out following its loss to Toledo last September in Little Rock — the state capitol and perfect location for the Razorbacks and Redwolves to play.

Toledo vs #18 Arkansas Highlights from Toledo Rockets Football on Vimeo.

Arkansas has no more to gain and no more to lose playing Arkansas State as it does facing a Toledo, or a Louisiana-Monroe.

The ban is wholly one-sided, as one might expect. A few years ago, Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir talked trying to arrange an athletic event — any athletic event — between the schools. Mohajir will not go as far as seeking government intervention, however, which makes any possibility of the universities coming together a pipe dream for the foreseeable future.

The concept of barring in-state games is foreign to me personally, having grown up on the game in the West. Both Arizona and Arizona State play Northern Arizona in alternating years; Eastern Washington plays Washington State this year, and put a scare in Washington two years ago with Vernon Adams at quarterback.

USC opened 2014 against Fresno State; Stanford kicked off the same campaign with UC Davis. Cal travels to San Diego State this season in a rare Power 5 at Group of 5 contest.

With Boise State refusing to schedule Idaho as a notable example, banned in-state games is a uniquely Southern tradition. UAB getting a game with Alabama on its docket would have benefited the briefly dormant program; MTSU could get a nice rub from Tennessee; and in the Larry Fedora years, Southern Miss probably would have put it on some of those Ole Miss teams.

Maybe the in-state ban makes sense in that case.

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