by Chris Bahn
Posted 9/11/2012 03:00 pm
Updated 8 months ago
Falling out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll and out of favor with many in the college football world is part of the penance Arkansas pays for Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Few outside of the locker room — where the cry is “still undefeated in conference” — consider the Razorbacks a real contender any longer.
Such is the cost of losing at home to a school picked by coaches to finish sixth in the 10-team Sun Belt Conference.
There is also a literal, financial price to pay here.
ESPN’s popular pregame show College GameDay was scheduled to appear in Fayetteville. All that was left to do as last week ended was confirm where the taping would take place on the University of Arkansas campus.
Now the crew — as we learned via Twitter — has been rerouted to Knoxville, Tenn. They should have been in Fayetteville as the town, football program and university reaped the benefits. Instead somebody else gets it.
Losing out on that exposure could cost the program in the neighborhood of $5 million in marketing value. KTHV’s Matt Turner reported on what the cost could mean on last night’s 10 p.m. news.
Honestly, though, $5 million is the least of the program’s worries when it comes to financial impact.
Righting the ship soon could be critical to carrying out the vision Athletic Director Jeff Long has for the athletic department.
Arkansas will celebrate progress on its football operations center with a Friday ceremony. Tying the celebration in with the Alabama game made a lot of sense when scheduled. Excitement figured to be high as the Razorbacks prepared to host a Top 10 matchup with the defending national champions.
Sometime in the near future a new fundraising drive will be launched aimed at getting money for capital improvements. Arkansas feels its venues are suitable for fans, but wants to improve the infrastructure for student athletes and athletic department employees.
Those improvements, approved by the UA Board of Trustees the day before ULM 34, Arkansas 31 (OT), come with a healthy price tag.
When the Razorbacks are winning 21 football games over two seasons and finishing in the Top 10, coming up with the necessary donations to help cover the $50 million-plus needed to fund basketball, baseball/track and academic center projects seems daunting, but doable.
Construction and bond prices are low today, so it’s seen as a good time to build. But somebody eventually has to foot the bill for it all.
Pledges have been made, but donations for the full, $40 million-plus football ops project aren’t in hand yet and already steps are being made for another $50 million in construction. Certainly, that’s not unusual for a project of this size. You get commitments and the cash usually comes in in installments.
As anybody who has ever sold wrapping paper and peanut brittle for a school fundraiser knows, somebody promising to give you $50 to help fund your field trip, doesn’t always end up with somebody giving you $50 for your field trip.
Sometimes you wind up eating the cost — and that crummy peanut brittle — on your own.
It isn’t time for Arkansas to panic. But the potential financial implications are something to keep an eye on following the Razorbacks gagging up a 28-7 lead and losing to 30-point underdogs.
RSVP, the seat licensing program launched in 2011, pumped about $6 million into the athletic department. That’s a great revenue stream, but it’s tied — as most of the business of college athletics is — directly into the football program being good.
Record numbers of folks were Razorback Foundation members last year. Donations went up at Arkansas.
That’s what makes this football season and the impending football coaching hire so critical for Long. Keeping that momentum going is crucial.
Arkansas needs someone who can sell hope and market the program. The last guy to have the job — for all his on- and off-field shortcomings — was able to communicate his vision to the fans. He gave them reason to buy in, even as his best bowl victory in four seasons was in the Cotton Bowl.
People believed more was coming.
Folks inside and outside the state bought into the program. They saw the Razorbacks, who finished third in the SEC West last season, as a Top 10 program and a real SEC/BCS contender.
In that climate, getting a donor to pledge $1 million comes a bit easier (though fundraising is an underappreciated art and rarely easy). Having somebody write that first $250,000 installment is much harder when faith in the program has been shaken by an awful loss, a disappointing season or a hire that’s perceived to be a bad one.
Losing to a team like Louisiana-Monroe comes with a cost. Arkansas’ hope here is that the losses are limited to dropping out of the AP Top 25 poll and failing to reap the benefits that come with college football’s most popular pregame show.