Nwa editorial between a (little) rock … nwadg heartburn foods to eat

The Razorbacks, until last week, were contractually obligated to play only one more game at the old, inadequate stadium that has, in the past, been the site of some unforgettable athletic contests. Legendary coach and athletic director Frank Broyles relied on Little Rock games to strengthen the statewide fan base for decades, back when getting to Fayetteville was hard, the stadiums weren’t all that different and scheduling of conference and nonconference games weren’t so complicated.

But several years before his 50-year tenure ended, even Broyles had determined he could best serve the needs of the University of Arkansas’ athletics program by shifting more games to the nicer, larger (and still growing) and more lucrative (and still growing) Razorback Stadium on campus. His successor, Jeff Long, continued the migration of games into the Ozarks.

One could certainly argue the pursuit of the end of games in Little Rock and the heartburn that created among some Hog supporters there contributed to another Long goodbye.

So the pressure from Day One has been on the UA’s new athletics director, Hunter Yurachek, and Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz. A week ago, they traveled to Little Rock and, at a press conference in front of War Memorial’s main facade, they announced the UA’s plan to keep playing games there — and to inch their way a little further from Little Rock in the process.

The Hogs, they said, will play their 2019, 2021 and 2023 home games against the Missouri Tigers in Little Rock based on a new agreement with the state Department of Parks and Tourism, the agency that now oversees management of the stadium. War Memorial has been home to at least one UA football game per year since its 1948 opening.

The agreement, everyone said, was a compromise that keeps the Razorback connection while addressing the inadequacies of the old stadium, concerns about attendance and the number of home games played away from the campus. The agreement expires in 2024, the same year as the university’s pact to play Texas AM every year at ATT Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That was an intentional arrangement so that the UA can re-evaluate both situations and resolve any incompatibilities with the university’s scheduling needs.

Little Rock and Hog fans have some level of responsibility for the future. The agreement establishes minimum levels of ticket sales and revenue to the UA. If those benchmarks aren’t met, it immediately reopens good faith negotiations between the UA and Parks and Tourism.

Round one of improvements includes new synthetic turf, improved broadcasting capability and Internet connection, new stadium speakers and mobile ticket scanning at every gate. The stadium must also comply with nonstructural recommendations from the Southeastern Conference, which is evaluating the facility.

A second round of improvements would include better security cameras, an expansion of the home team locker room and compliance with structural requirements and recommendations from the SEC facilities study. If the state falls short of these requirements, UA and Parks and Tourism will negotiate a facilities improvement plan to identify what hasn’t been finished and set a deadline for its completion.

It’s clear the agreement is not a final solution concerning Little Rock games. There is much work to be done before 2019 if War Memorial will remain a home away from home for the Hogs. Even if every investment is made at War Memorial, the economics and game day experiences for fans and the team will always favor Razorback Stadium on campus.

The arguments to play games at War Memorial Stadium are not all that different from those made by people who give voice to the supposed value of the UA playing a football game against the Arkansas State University Red Wolves every year — or at all.

Value to whom? Certainly not the University of Arkansas. A decision to play a game in Little Rock costs the university’s athletics program millions. The lost money totals an amount pretty close to the annual salary of the Hogs’ head football coach. Why give that up? And don’t even get us started on the Arkansas State foolishness. It makes great sense for Arkansas State supporters and for people who are more or less neutral in the potential Natural State Showdown. But what’s in it for the University of Arkansas? The idea holds no significant benefit to the university and, however unlikely the outcome might be, creates a path that could erode the statewide fan base the Hogs have established over the course of decades.

All things being equal (which they’re not even close), future home games for the University of Arkansas ought to be played in Fayetteville. The politics of it all, however, is like a thumb on the scales giving Little Rock more weight than its facilities deserve. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who can ill afford to just look at it from a UA perspective, has said he wants War Memorial Stadium to serve as the mecca of statewide football, a magnet for high school and college teams across Arkansas. It’s not a bad notion and we respect the analogy, but few of the faithful make the journey to Mecca every year.

War Memorial Stadium is a great monument to the military service members it honors. It is, however, an inferior venue for Hog games. Even the improvements outlined in the new agreement do not seem to be enough to keep Razorback games there forever. Certainly, either the game in Little Rock or the game with Texas AM in Texas will need to end to give the UA the flexibility and revenue it should expect.

We reject the notion, by the way, that ending games in Little Rock would necessarily sever all ties with Razorback fans there. There are plenty of states in which the main college football program does not play in the state’s biggest city or state capital. Tuscaloosa is not the population capital of Alabama, for example. And yes, we know, Arkansas football isn’t Alabama football, either. But it is the most successful and exciting program in the state.