Exploring histories and ramifications of the Arkansas’ biggest D1 and D2 programs playing each other. I ain’t gonna lie: this category will probably be dominated by speculation surrounding Arkansas vs. Arkansas State in football and basketball.
USA Today just released the most up to date financial reports for all 230 Division I athletic programs in the nation. In terms of total revenue, the University of Arkansas sits 14 spots from the top. Ten spots from the bottom you’ll find the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (the nation’s largest intra-university system disparity). In between sit three other Arkansas schools.
I’ll break down these numbers later, but for now, let’s simply celebrate in the splattering of them on the wall.
There has been a recent wellspring of news pieces extolling the benefits of a proposed regional sports complex east of Hot Springs.
The basic idea, espoused by the city’s advertising and promotion commission, is to buy at least 175 acres previously owned by a vanadium mining company (UMETCO) and turn the area off U.S. 270 into a gleaming citadel of youth sports.
How gleaming? Talk is it would be one of the finest sports complexes in the South.
Tentative plans, according to Hot Springs Sentinel Record, include “a signature youth baseball field with ‘spectacular views’ at the top of the site; two multipurpose fields that would accommodate four regulation fields; a ‘fourplex’ youth baseball area that would be the central focus of the complex, with four youth baseball fields; a group gathering area next to a heavily wooded area that could contain soft trails and accommodate mountain biking, interpretive stations, wildlife blinds, day camp activities, small pavilions and picnicking; and a high-point lookout.”
I agree: this sounds awesome. And – wait – it gets even more awesome/new fangle-y.
According to THV 11, this complex would include fields for flag football and lacrosse. Lacrosse? That sport which struggles to attract more than 31 Twitter followers in the state’s largest city? Expect any lacrosse fields to be used much more by lacrosse-saavy Tennesseans and Texans than Arkansans.
The complex would cater to visitors from out of state, after all. It would serve a conduit or these potential tourists to be funneled to nearby activities and sites such as the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail, a collection of historic markers commemorating the city’s early role in spring training for professional baseball.
Let’s assume the Garland County powers that be get what they want and this regional sports mecca gets underway.
A major question looms: what does it portend for North Little Rock’s Burns Park?
The 1,700-acre park already includes a few sports complexes which host regional events.
Not to mention a 36-hole golf course, 36-hole disc golf course, soccer complex, tennis, trails, seasonal amusement park, archery range and a dog park.
The Burns Park baseball complex, just completed in 2012, includes nine fields. Its soccer complex includes 17 irrigated fields, 1,500 parking spaces, tournament lighting on one quadrant, pavilions, 135 acres of preserved wetland, a three-mile hike/bike trail and is home to the UALR women’s soccer team.
It has hosted the nation’s biggest events in youth soccer: the 2006 & 2002 US Youth Soccer Southern Regional Championships as well as the 2008 US Youth Soccer National Championships.
And let’s not forget about the softball complex, which throws some serious heat with:
20/30 regular play lighting
30/50 tournament play lighting
Three window concession stand
Five scorekeeper rooms
Sports medicine room
Over 1,000 lighted parking spaces with concrete walkways.
If the Hot Springs sports complex is built, will that town’s leaders start locking horns with their NLR counterparts in attempts to attract top regional youth sports tournaments?
Consider that in 2005 alone, more than 182,000 participants and spectators came to the Burns Park soccer complex. That’s a lot of tourist dollars – money that may soon go to Hot Springs instead of Little Rock and North Little Rock.
On the whole, college football programs don’t scale down. Why would they? As their schools’ student populations grow year after year, the lists of potential alumni donors only get longer. And in the arms race that is Division I – and increasingly Division II – football, there are always more stadium seats to build and fill.
Hendrix College, meanwhile, is bucking the trend. Early in the 20th century, it had a 5,000-person stadium and played the likes of the University of Arkansas and Ole Miss with players who didn’t receive athletic scholarships or stipends. The state’s biggest schools, however, subsidized their players. And those players starting pulverizing Hendrix’s smaller players, which ultimately caused the program to fold in 1960.
Cue an ace-bandaged hand bursting through cemetery ground, slowly grasping at air.
After a 53-year long hiatus, football again lives on Hendrix’s Conway campus. It won’t, however, be the same caliber of ball your dad’s dad wrote home about. This iteration has the Warriors playing as Arkansas’ only football member of Division III, reserved for the NCAA’s smallest schools, in a new 1,500 stadium. Head Coach Buck Buchanan aims to fill 65 roster spots by a September 7th season opener against Westminster College (Missouri). By 2017, he hopes to have more than 100 players – all, of course, men. This is a major reason Hendrix is resurrecting football: In recent decades, the female-male ratio at liberal colleges nationwide has tilted in favor of women, and football helps straighten that imbalance.
Per NCAA rules for all DIII athletes, Hendrix football player won’t receive athletic scholarships.
Unlike in the 1950s, the private school’s leaders think this time around the lack of subsidies actually helps the program. “It’s not gonna be the Arkansas Razorbacks, or really the University of Central Arkansas,” says athletic director Amy Weaver. “That’s not really what we’re about. Division III lends itself to the true student-athlete. These guys are playing because they love to play the game not because they’re getting paid to play.”
This article originally ran in Arkansas Life magazine as part of a “Twenty To Watch” feature in the January, 2013 issue.
In my previous post, I explored reasons why NWA 7A high school football dominates the rest of the state – specifically, central Arkansas.
All coaches I interviewed said NWA school districts prioritize sports and allocate more money for them. I was curious, then, how much NWA schools spend on athletics vis a vis central Arkansas schools. As you see below, only Cabot places among the top five districts in terms of estimated athletics expenditure per student:
2. I also got most recent school enrollments (2010-11) from the ADE. Some schools in the districts (all elementary schools and most middle schools in NWA) don’t have athletic programs so I subtracted the enrollment of those schools. Therefore, the number of students mentioned in the above graph pertain to only the enrollments of high schools, junior highs and middle schools with athletic programs.
3. I divided the expenditures by the number of students to get a rough estimate of how much priority the districts give to sports. Rough, because I took numbers from two separate years. Also because I used only expenditure numbers from one specific year and those can strongly fluctuate based on major infrastructure building projects.
Still, the goal here was to provide a snapshot giving us a ballpark idea of why NWA keeps coming out on top. I believe the graph does that.
Oh, and here’s one of the consequences when it comes to football:
Since 2005, NWA teams are 24-10 vs. central Arkansas teams in the 7A playoffs. Six times in that period NWA has battled central Arkansas with a spot in the finals at War Memorial Stadium on the line. Six times, NWA won:
2005 Springdale 49, LR Catholic 14
2006 Fort Smith Southside 40, NLR 34 (2 OT)
2009 Springdale Har-Ber 14, Cabot 10
2009 Fort Smith Southside 24, NLR 23
2011 Bentonville 31, NLR 7
2012 Fayetteville 30, NLR 28
Imagining a World Where the Big, Bad Wolves Take on the State’s Top Hogs: Image courtesy of Sync magazine
Rivalry week gripped the college football world last Saturday.
In states with populations or areas similar to Arkansas – Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina – longtime intrastate foes squared off for annual bragging rights.
The University of Arkansas doesn’t schedule in-state competition, so nothing like Ole Miss-Mississippi State or Clemson-South Carolina erupts here. It’s widely believed the state’s other FBS program, Arkansas State, couldn’t beat Arkansas often enough for an authentic rivalry to flourish. The numbers support this: since 2001, UA and ASU have played the same opponent 21 times within the same season. Only four times did ASU lose to that opponent by an equal or smaller margin.
And not until this season did ASU beat an opponent that had, or would, defeat Arkansas. In September, Louisiana-Monroe beat Arkansas 34-31 in Little Rock. In November, ULM lost to ASU 45-23 in Jonesboro.
Besides, injuries affected both games. Arkansas lost quarterback Tyler Wilson for the second half of the ULM loss. Then, three of ULM’s defensive starters missed the ASU game, along with four offensive starters – including star quarterback Kolton Browning. “I’m not making excuses,” says ULM head coach Todd Berry. But “obviously that affected our game plan. We still threw the ball around decent and moved the ball, but there was that extra dimension they didn’t have to prepare for.”
ASU’s ULM win, along with ranking ahead of Arkansas in national polls, don’t necessarily prove ASU is better than Arkansas this season. Instead, these events simply make speculating about a hypothetical showdown all the more fun.
Especially if it happened at War Memorial Stadium. “I think it would be great for the state,” ASU head coach Gus Malzahn said last week. “I think it would create a lot of excitement.”
Below is a prediction of how the game would have transpired if these programs played last week, with staffs and injury statuses as they were at season’s end.
UA Offense vs. ASU Defense
Tyler Wilson picks apart the Red Wolves with pinpoint passing. His main target is Cobi Hamilton, who has a field day against smaller ASU defensive backs like Chaz Scales and Don Jones, who plays only half the game because of a suspension.
ASU starts off blitzing Wilson often but slows down after it is shredded a few times on short slants with Hamilton and wheel routes with Knile Davis. The Hogs’ offensive linemen, who average 303 pounds, consistently open holes against ASU defensive linemen who average about 280 pounds. Hog running back Dennis Johnson uses these to get to the defense’s second line, where the stout senior has a few epic collisions with ace linebacker Nathan Herrold.
As always, lack of consistent focus and turnovers plague Arkansas. RB Jonathan Williams makes a spectacular 36-yard run on a promising drive at the end of the first quarter, only to cough it up at the end. In the third quarter, Arkansas’ Mekale McKay catches a 40-yard pass and appears headed for the endzone when safety Sterling Young strips him on a blindside hit.
A football coach isn’t trained to look too far down the road.
He earns most of his pay to make decisions in the now, to successfully adjust schemes in the span of minutes and get his players locked into the present moment with laser-like intensity. The best coaches develop the ability to think one step ahead of the game on the field. All the recruiting, fish fry glad-handing and long film sessions serve only one purpose – 60 minutes, played 12 or 13 Saturdays a year.
So, it’s not surprising that Malzahn was operating very much in the present tense as the guest speaker at the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday. In his case, that means toeing the party line as head coach of the nascent Arkansas State Red Wolves program. In his first season, Malzahn has continued to stoke statewide interest in the program that’s now vying for its second consecutive conference title.
He stoked fires of a different sort at the Monday luncheon.
Without prompting, Malzahn launched into the state’s most enduring hot-button sports issues – the ASU vs. UA debate. UA’s unofficial policy has prevented the program from scheduling in-state competition since 1946. But that hasn’t stopped what many Hog fans perceive as other such programs from showing up at the UA’s doorstep, hat in hand, beseeching the master of the home for a few gold coins in the form of a guarantee game.
Malzahn reminded us ASU is the latest program to make such a request.
“We’ve reached out to the University of Arkansas. We’d like to play them in Little Rock in the future, and we think that would be good for the state.”
He later added: “I think it’s the day and time that Arkansas State and Arkansas needs [sic] to play to play in Little Rock… It’s not 1970 anymore. It really isn’t. I think it’s healthy for everybody concerned.”
No doubt, decades will pass before Razorback fans forget Arkansas’ 34-31 home loss to Louisiana-Monroe in its second game this season. It was the first time a Sun Belt team had beaten the Hogs, which led some fans to wonder if the Red Wolves could have challenged the Razorbacks this season.
As the Red Wolves have heated up in the last month, while the Hogs have continued to struggle, the question has been burning for months. On Thursday, though, enough fuel was dumped on to this debate to turn it into a full-fledged fire.
Arkansas State blitzed ULM 45-23, just another ho-hum offensive explosion in the most successful era in the program history (as a Division I-A program, which ASU became in 1992). In the last two seasons, ASU has won 13 of 14 conference games, but none was more historic it terms of potential in-state bragging rights than its rout of ULM.
For the first time since at least 2001 – when ASU started playing in the Sun Belt – it beat an opponent that had beaten Arkansas that same season.
Yes, the Red Wolves beat a ULM squad without an injured Kolton Browning, the dual-threat quarterback who’d shredded Arkansas for 481 total yards in Little Rock. With a 22-point margin of victory, however, it’s unlikely Browning would have made up the difference to topple ASU in Jonesboro. His backup still passed for 357 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, after all.
Since 2001, Arkansas State has shared an opponent with Arkansas during the same season 21 times. Although Arkansas State has been more impressive against shared opponents the last two seasons, Arkansas still dominates any comparisons between schedules.
Of the 21 times, only four times has ASU lost to a shared opponent by an equal or smaller margin. Those instances are highlighted in red below:
There aren’t many blank spots on longtime NBA player Derek Fisher’s resume: five world titles, an AAU National Championship, a high school state championship, six years as National Basketball Players Association President. On every big stage the Little Rock native has played, he has left his mark.
Yet there’s the stage he never played on.
It doesn’t matter how many big-time events Fisher has been a part of in his 16-year pro career. Nothing will erase the memory of how close he got as a college senior to making his sport’s most dramatic competition: the NCAA Tournament. His University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans were up 56-55 in the 1996 Sun Belt Conference Championship game with four seconds left.
The University of New Orleans had the ball. Fisher closed out quickly on the opposing guard with the ball, but he spun past Fisher’s outstretched arms and drove to the basket, lofting a teardrop shot that resulted in an upset win.
Despite a 23-6 record, UALR would be left out on the doorstep on Selection Sunday. Fisher’s final shot at the Big Dance was gone.
It could have been much, much different.
What if instead of leading UALR, Fish had helped steer the Razorbacks? “I think he could have played at Arkansas, but coming out of high school, he just wasn’t ready,” said Razorback All-American Corliss Williamson, also one of Fisher’s best friends. There’s a strong chance Fisher was ready for Arkansas halfway through his college career, though, and he was closer to making that jump than many people realize.
Some interesting stuff from Arkansas’ athletic director Jeff Long, who spoke at the Little Rock Touchdown Club today.
He came out in true Jeff Long fashion, not so much with guns a-blazing – more like rumor flame extinguishers a-spraying – with stuff like this:
“Somebody shared with me that somewhere I was quoted as saying I was going to make the next head football coach at the University of Arkansas the highest-paid coach in the country. That’s simply not true. That would be an irresponsible statement to make.”
Here’s more of Long’s insight into the coaching search
HOW FAR INTO THE PROCESS OF SELECTING A NEXT HEAD COACH?
“Just research at this point … You know, in our world unlike the business world, you just don’t pick out a candidate and go and get him. We have some unwritten protocols that we file try to follow. They’re getting blurrier in our profession – what’s appropriate and what isn’t. I’m going to try to walk that line and and not invade or intrude upon a coach who’s a season. That’s important that you do it the right way. Certainly, there are a lot of third that are trying to get us information parties that are out there that are trying to get us information about those who are interested in those who might not be. We’ve got to walk a fine line there.”
ON REACTING TO FANS’ SUGGESTIONS FOR NEXT COACH
“Trying to judge who you all think would be a quality candidate is really, really difficult because I’ve gotten letters and e-mails from everything from high school coaches to retired coaches to NFL head coaches, so there’s everything in between”
ON THE WIDTH OF THE NET HE’S CASTING
“Certainly top assistants are not out of the question. I think if you just look around our own conference and you look at some of the schools that have great tradition, have great resources and maybe reside in a state with great recruiting – they could have gone out and chosen a proven head coach, and they ended up with a top notch coordinator. So, I’m certainly not going limit my head coaching search to only current head coaches. There are a lot of offensive coordinators, defensive coordintors, who make that step like a Bob stoops did 10, 12 years ago when he went from a coordinator at Florida to a national championship in two years.”
WHEN WILL YOU DECIDE?
“I’m hopeful that we will have a decision made within a couple weeks after the end of the regular season.”
I had a good talk with UCA head basketball coach Corliss Williamson a couple days ago. While I’ve met most of the other basketball luminaries from the state, I’d regrettably never gotten around to Big Nasty. I’d met his son, Chasen, when he was a second grader at the New School in Fayetteville and I was a college student moonlighting as a playground supervisor. I told Corliss that Chasen, who’s now a senior at Fayetteville High School, had quite the leg in kickball.
Our talk mostly revolved around his longtime friend Derek Fisher, the subject of an upcoming magazine profile I’m writing. Corliss told me he met Derek at North Little Rock’s Sherman Park community center around age 10. They played together to win a national championship (in AAU in 1990) and played against each other for a world championship (2004 NBA Finals). Corliss, who then played for Detroit, said the Pistons’ ’04 title was especially sweet since he felt he owed his friend one: Fish’s high school (Parkview) beat Corliss’ team (Russeville) two out of three meetings. Indeed, were it not for Parkview beating Russellville in the state tournament of their senior years, Corliss might have accomplished a rare quad-fecta by winning and AAU national title, a high school state title, an NCAA title and an NBA championship.
So, did Corliss keep track of the head-to-head matchups between he and Fish in the NBA?
“C’mon man, it was the Lakers!” he replied, laughing. “It was tough. I was with Sacramento, Toronto, Detroit when we weren’t that good, then to Philadelphia… I think he might have the edge on that one but when it came down to the Finals I was definitely happy we could beat them then.”
I assured Corliss even if I looked up the head-to-head win-loss record between his and Fish’s NBA teams, I wouldn’t publish them. “That’s cool man. You can put it in there. I’d like to know it anyway.”
We also talked some about his UCA Bears, who will be looking to improve on last season’s 8-21 overall record and 3-13 mark in conference. One of 2011-12’s bright spots was the emergence of 6-5 sophomore LaQuinton Miles, who averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Miles is one of three Jacksonville, Ark. natives – along with DeShone McClure and Terrell Brown – on this year’s roster, which begged the question:
Q) Has a recruiting pipeline been constructed stretching east from Faulkner to Lonoke County?
A) (chuckles) Yeah, I guess you could say there’s a pipeline developing between Conway and Jacksonville. There are some talented kids coming out of Jacksonville. Sometimes they get a little overlooked, they don’t get as much publicity as some of the other kids. We were lucky to get the three kids we got from out of Jacksonville. That’s one thing we take pride in – recruiting out of the state of Arkansas.