Razorbacks Far From Deserting War Memorial Stadium

by Jim Harris  on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008 10:09 am  

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

The fears of Central Arkansas Razorbacks fans that their beloved team would someday no longer grace War Memorial Stadium appear now to be unfounded. Not only is new UA athletic director Jeff Long not planning to move the two remaining games in Little Rock up to Fayetteville, he's going to announce Friday at a press conference that the Hog will stay in Little Rock through at least 2016.

That's what insiders in Fayetteville confirmed when the War Memorial Stadium Commission announced earlier Thursday a press conference following their commission meeting at lunch Friday. The media will hear the news at 1:30 p.m. that the contract between the university and the stadium is being extended two years. The parties agreed in 2000 to a 15-year contract that would expire after the 2014 season.

In that contract, Arkansas promised to play three games in Little Rock during four of the 15 seasons, and twice during the first three years of the contract that, in seasons with 12 regular seasons games, they managed that.

But that agreement was predicated on the Hogs also have season after season where they'd play eight games in Arkansas. Even with 12 games now the norm for every college team instead of in special circumstances -- which was the rule in effect in 2000 -- Arkansas isn't playing eight games within Arkansas anymore.

Beginning next October, Arkansas and Texas A&M will meet yearly for eight seasons in Jerry Jones' new Cowboys palace in Arlington, Texas. The opportunities for Little Rock to have a third game each season are gone, Arkansas would not want to play four games in a 74,000-seat capacity stadium in Fayetteville and three in one 20,000 seats smaller.

The compromise is two more years to the contract, meaning more revenue for the stadium to continue improvements it has implemented the past several years.

For those of you who haven't seen the place in a while, it's regained a lot of lost luster. In fact, War Memorial Stadium may never have looked better. The work on the east concourse is completed, and fans will see TV screens throughout the concession area while they're purchasing their popcorn, hotdogs and Coke. Restrooms have been renovated. The visitors' locker room renovation is the latest project to be finished, though had we been making the decisions, we might have made that last on the priority list.

When the 2009 season ends, the stadium will embark on a new press box project, tearing out the one that has been in place for 30 years. It's confines are too tight for press, radio and TV folks, the carpeting has aged something awful, and the need for specialized sky boxes in addition to the big-moneyed fans' "Hog Heaven" is paramount these days for additional income.

A plan to put skyboxes atop the east side was looked at, but never got beyond the talking stage, stadium manager Charlie Staggs told us recently.

Little Rock can't merit any more than two Hog games simply because of the stadium size, and no one these days has come forward with a plan to add 20,000 more seats. (As a side note, Birmingham's Legion Field, which once shared home games with Tuscaloosa for the Alabama Crimson Tide, recently dismantled its upper deck to lower capacity for its Alabama-Birmingham games and to play host to the Papa John's Pizza Bowl; Alabama's campus stadium was enlarged from 45,000 in the early 1960s to its current 92,000, and it's so state-of-the-art that there's no sign it ever was a high school-like stadium.)

But Long, almost from the first day he arrived, seemed to grasp that having his football team playing in Little Rock was important to maintaining a hold on the entire state. Yes, there are plenty of fans from Southeast Arkansas who love their Hogs who are only going to buy tickets to the games in Little Rock and not attempt to negotiate a 10-hour driving day to and from Fayetteville. And, yes, there are plenty of northwest Arkansas fans who aren't going to trek down the mountain to Little Rock twice a year. Then there are plenty of fans who enjoy the uniqueness of two stadiums, and two separate tailgating experiences, and who will attend every home game no matter what city it's played in.

Of all the universities who shared two stadiums over the years -- and mostly it was a trend across the Deep South -- Arkansas' situation was unique. In Alabama, only 58 miles separated the Tuscaloosa campus from Birmingham. Auburn once had a tiny campus stadium that, like it's Bama rival, was magnificiently enlarged to nearly 90,000 seats. Because of that, the Tigers were for the longest time forced by SEC rivals to play them in Birmingham, but it was still only 110 miles away.

Fayetteville is 190 miles or so from Little Rock. Ole Miss, which had a similar distance to travel to play in Jackson, eventually found its support in the Mississippi capital city significantly waning, so putting all its games on campus where "The Grove" is such an experience made perfect sense.

Arkansas is truly unique, and Jeff Long sees that clearly. Little Rock, at least for the next nine seasons — and we suspect many more after that — will be able to feel a close connection on fall Saturdays with the Razorbacks.



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