Word is there are quite a few tickets still available for Saturday’s Toledo game, and with it looking like a second straight year without a sellout in venerable War Memorial Stadium, it’s natural to question – or in some cases worry – if the Hogs will continue to play in the state’s capital past the current contract which expires after the 2018 season.
As one who hails from eastern Arkansas, but has predominantly lived in Northwest Arkansas since my freshman year of college in 1986, I’m ambivalent about Little Rock games. I understand both sides of the argument.
For decades playing in Little Rock was a necessity for the health of Arkansas’ football program. Most of the state’s money and influence resided either in or within a few hours driving distance of Little Rock.
Central Arkansas was the Hogs’ most fertile recruiting ground and eastern and southern Arkansas also produced significantly more players than in recent years. A presence in Little Rock made it much easier for Arkansas coaches to keep the best in-state athletes from migrating across the Mississippi border to other prominent football programs.
From the 1950s through the ‘70s, large and small family farms dominated the state’s economy, and financially the eastern and southern portions of the state were more vital than the northwest. That may be hard to believe to some, but it’s true. It was good business for the football program to cater to central, eastern and southern Arkansas.
War Memorial Stadium was considerably larger than Razorback Stadium, offering more fans the opportunity to see a game in the centrally located venue, which, of course meant more revenue for the program. Likewise, it was more difficult to travel to Fayetteville for all sorts of reasons from highway infrastructure, a somewhat precarious airport, speed limits, distance, cost, to overall ease of mobility of the fan base.
However, by the mid 1980s the state’s demographics showed signs of shifting to the astute. Corporate farming changed the nature of life in eastern and southern Arkansas, and at the same time Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and the trucking industry began to grow in the northwest. It might be too bold to say former Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles saw the magnitude of the change that was on the horizon for Northwest Arkansas in the mid 1980s when the upper deck on west side of Razorback Stadium was added, but then again, he’s always been known as a man of vision.
By the time Reynolds Razorback Stadium was renovated to its current capacity in 2001, it wasn’t inconceivable for all the games to be moved to Fayetteville to many who worked within the program and most who lived in Northwest Arkansas. If it were purely a bottom-line decision based on money generated from games, Arkansas would have moved all the games at that point. The school doesn’t lose money by playing in Little Rock, but it misses out on about $2 million in revenue. However, the Razorbacks program is more than just the games. It’s relationships and traditions and the people from all four corners of the state and expatriates, too, uniting as one. The feelings and desires of those donors outside of Northwest Arkansas had to be considered as well.
Since the compromise that kept games in Little Rock was struck in 2001, even more games have drifted to Fayetteville and rightly so. However, my hope is that the Razorbacks’ tradition of playing in Little Rock can be maintained past 2018. Many of the program’s most special moments took place in War Memorial Stadium, far too many to list.
Tailgating on the golf course before and after games is a special time for most Hog fans who’ve had the pleasure of doing so. Those fond memories will carried with those Hog fans until their days are done. Like so many others in this state, the Razorbacks are a family affair for me and mine, and Little Rock and War Memorial Stadium are an important part of that dynamic, a part that I hope extends beyond 2018.