Arkansas Fans, Get a Grip: War Memorial Stadium Tradition Not So Special

Arkansas will play one game per year in Little Rock through 2018.
Arkansas will play one game per year in Little Rock through 2018.

Arkansas fans are right to believe some of their traditions are truly unique. There are, after all, tens of college programs named after Wildcats or Tigers or some permutation of Bear, but there is only one named for the Razorback. And no group of fans, no matter how much they chomp, stomp or damn eagles, has thrown out anything that remotely resembles the Ozarkian eeriness that is the Hog Call. Suiiii generis, indeed.

But in all the recent commotion over Arkansas’ continuing pullout of War Memorial Stadium, I’ve noted a troublesome sentiment that what Arkansas has had all these years in its dual home arrangement has been so wonderfully precious and unique that losing it would present a blow the program may never fully recover from. Not so: plenty other programs split their home games between two stadia for decades. Plenty other fans made memories that lasted a lifetime in the stadium closer to their home. Yes, the other programs stopped doing this. But no, they did not fall apart.

To the contrary, many have thrived since quitting the practice.

These other programs – Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Virginia Tech et al – began dual home arrangements for the same, exact reason Arkansas started doing it in Little Rock in 1932: exposure, revenue and what today is called “brand building.” Arkansas leaders knew if their program was ever going to become nationally competitive it needed to have more support from its state, to stop losing the likes of Ken Kavanaugh (Little Rock High grad) to LSU and Don Hutson (Pine Bluff High) and Paul Bryant (Fordyce High) to Alabama. So Arkansas leaders, like leaders at Alabama, Mississippi State and Oregon State, decided to take their team away from its rural campus and parade it in a bigger, in-state city in front of more media and fans.*

Oregon did the same by traveling from Eugene to Portland. Washington State traveled from Pullman to Spokane, while Ole Miss traveled to Jackson and Auburn traveled to Birmingham. Each of the programs pulled out of these metro areas at different times but one overriding reason is the same as in Arkansas’ case – the campus’ stadium simply outgrew the metro area’s stadium. This especially came to the fore in the late 1980s as Auburn jockeyed to stop playing Iron Bowl games in Birmingham, as I wrote in a recent New York Times article: “Auburn leaders increasingly supported moving the game from the 75,000-seat Legion Field to the university’s expanded Jordan-Hare Stadium, which could hold 85,000. Housel [a former Auburn athletic director] said it got to the point that even Auburn fans living in Birmingham were so ready to drive the 120 miles to campus, they would ‘refuse to buy tickets to the Auburn-Alabama game if it was in Birmingham.'”

Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.
Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

Every team, as you see in the chart below, has dropped its dual home arrangement in the last 50 years. And programs like Oregon, Virginia Tech, Alabama and Auburn have gone on contend for or win national championships since the drop. Yes, you are right: Arkansas has become unique in the sense that it appears to be the only program that is still hanging on to this practice.

But is that something to be proud of?

It’s better to be proud of winning at a high level, a la Oregon, Auburn and Alabama. But hanging on to War Memorial hasn’t recently helped Arkansas get to this level. Its function was served in helping lift Arkansas to the nationally elite level it enjoyed through much of the 1960s through 1980s. It will not serve in getting Arkansas to the level Jeff Long, Bret Bielema et al expect it to reach in the later 2010s and 2020s.

Continue reading Arkansas Fans, Get a Grip: War Memorial Stadium Tradition Not So Special

Comparing Hogs’ Home Court Advantage to Other SEC Road Woe-rriers

Over the last five years, no SEC basketball team has had as severe a bipolar personality as the Arkansas Razorbacks. This was confirmed on Saturday, when the Hogs stumbled through a loss at  Vanderbilt only three days after defeating #2 Florida at home.

Indeed, as the numbers point out below, no SEC team has had as large a discrepancy between its home and road winning percentages as the Hogs over the last five years. I compared Arkansas with the other three SEC teams at the bottom of the road wins barrel in that time period and found:

On average, the Hogs win 14% of their road games, compared to the second-lowest teams, Auburn and South Carolina, at 23%.

Hog bball winning on road

Yet, it’s not as if Arkansas has been an overall horrible team, which is normally expected from teams which play so woefully on the road.

Arkansas, on average, wins 77% of its home games, a full 10% more than Georgia, the second-best team at home in our small pool.

Hog Bball Winning at Home

The difference between Arkansas’ home and road winning percentage averages is 63%*, which is very extreme.

How extreme?

As a point of comparsion, consider a few years ago Maryland had the largest discrepancy in the ACC between home win percentage and road/neutral court win percentage. It was only 39.2%.

The NFL’s largest such discrepancy for the years 2003-2013 came from Detroit. The Lions won 21.2% percent more of their home games vs. road games in that decade.

Quite a few teams go winless on the road during a particular season, but you rarely see a team so persistently bad on the road as Arkansas. Especially when that same team is winning so many games at home.

Why do you think Arkansas has such an enduring road problem over the years despite head coach and roster changes ? My best guess is that whatever the problem is – whether it’s a certain attitude, or lack thereof –  it keeps getting passed on from upperclassmen to underclassmen year after year.

I wonder: Should the athletic program invest in a sports psychologist to address the issue?

*To get this number, I averaged the single season win percentages. I did not add the total number of wins and games played over the five-year period.