Bahn: If Moving LSU Game Is Best For 2012, What's Best Beyond This Season?

by Chris Bahn  on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 8:54 am  

Arkansas is moving LSU from War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock (above) to Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Ole Miss will replace the Tigers as the SEC opponent in Little Rock.

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What Arkansas fans wear to games at War Memorial Stadium is really no different than the gear they wear inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Both Little Rock and Fayetteville crowds are primarily in red and white.

When it comes to Calling the Hogs, there is passion regardless of the venue. Diehards in the Northwest versus Central Arkansas argument have preferences as to which tailgating is better or which in-game atmosphere is superior, but inside 62-year-old War Memorial — on the playing surface — the Razorbacks are just as much at home as they are in their on-campus venue.

Check out the games just off University Avenue you'll find a very pro-University of Arkansas atmosphere.

Getting inside War Memorial Stadium is what seems to be complicating matters and providing some real separation between the two stadiums.

Travel makes Little Rock dates on the schedule very much road games. Passionate fans and great tailgating on the golf course don’t negate the nearly 200 miles separating the two towns.

Traditionally, it’s an inconvenience that the athletic department and coaches are willing to overlook. Playing in central Arkansas, as I've written before, has a marketing value that goes beyond athletics.

But when looking at this year’s schedule, seeing what would amount to three consecutive road trips in November (at South Carolina, at Mississippi State and in Little Rock) Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and Coach Bobby Petrino didn’t see an ideal situation.

So LSU will travel to Fayetteville for the first time since 1992. Arkansas officials are counting on the game having tremendous impact on the national championship race and have elected to move the game — and the CBS broadcast — to Reynolds Razorback Stadium on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

“If we played in Little Rock that means traveling again in the buses, three and a half hours. Loading. Unloading. All that goes into travel and wear and tear on young men,” Long told me Friday night. “We thought it gave us the best chance to beat them, this year, in Fayetteville.”

This is not a decision that was made lightly. It came after months of deliberation and is the sort of move that could be made only after Petrino's Hogs winning 21 games and making a BCS bowl appearance in the last two years.

Petrino discussed the move earlier in the day with Justin Acri on 103.7 The Buzz. While the coach did his best not to call playing in Little Rock an away game, he couldn’t avoid the reality of the situation.

“Well, I think the biggest factor for us is that to move it up there is to make sure we don’t play three straight games away from, you know, our, away from Fayetteville," Petrino said. "We would have went on the road basically three weeks in a row. That wears on you.”

It’s natural to wonder what this means for the future of two games annually in War Memorial Stadium. That three-plus hour bus ride isn’t going to get any shorter. Transporting equipment and personnel doesn't suddenly become less of a pain.

Also working against Little Rock is the fact Arkansas has an expansion of Reynolds Razorback Stadium on the table and there is already a 20,000-seat differential between the two. That’s lost revenue, especially considering how little luxury box/premium seating War Memorial has at this point. A less-than-full stadium for the New Mexico game last year didn’t help the argument that the time spent in Little Rock is worth it.

While Texas A&M-Arkansas is headed to home-and-home for 2012 and 2013, Long said he is hopeful the two schools can work out an agreement to return to Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. That means the Razorbacks will likely be playing home conference games in three different stadiums across two different states.

How is that beneficial to the players? Here's a hint: it's not. At all.

Staying in Little Rock also means recruiting takes a hit. Arkansas can only host recruits at one off-campus game. Things are set up for LSU to be the biggest game on the schedule next season and November is when recruits and their families are interested in making official visits. That’s when decisions start getting made on college choices and bringing players to Little Rock where they can’t see the facilities, the campus, meet professors, academic advisors and other students isn’t ideal.

There is mounting evidence to suggest the multiple games per year in Little Rock might be running their course. Arkansas and War Memorial have a contract for two games annually — at a cost to the UA of $75,000 per game — through 2016.

However, Long stresses he's only thinking short-term with this decision. He made sure to tell me that fans shouldn’t read anything into the long-term prognosis for games in Little Rock, specifically the meeting with LSU. It is possible the Razorbacks could rotate conference games in Little Rock until the contract expires. That's a flexibility the War Memorial contract allows, though that option hasn't been explored much in the past.

“I just think it’s important our fans don’t extrapolate the fact we moved LSU to mean anything else,” Long said. “We did it for this year. Again, we’ll look at those schedules each year and decide what is the best way to go.”

Ultimately, the decision came down to what gave Arkansas the best opportunity to win in 2012. That, above all else, is why the decision was made, Long said. Playing three consecutive “road trips” in the SEC would be tough on any team.

Sure, it seems odd to see a venue that’s been home to Razorback games since 1948 as a “road game.” But that’s what it is, especially on the heels of two games out of state.

Arkansas’ schedule sets up well for a 2012 run at the SEC West and national title. Alabama and LSU both visit Fayetteville and those are the teams the Razorbacks must beat in order to reach their goals.

“I think all of our fans would agree – in Little Rock, Fayetteville or wherever – they want us to win,” Long said.



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