Wednesday’s announcement that the University of Arkansas has agreed to play Arkansas State in football at War Memorial Stadium in the 2025 season came out of the blue. Yes there had been some rumblings about this on social media but the general reaction was that it was fake news. Instead, it was very real and the fanbase of both schools erupted.
As nearly as I can determine the policy of the U. of A. not playing other in-state schools in athletics goes back at least to the late 1940s. Frank Broyles always said that he inherited the policy from his boss John Barnhill. I first read about the controversy surrounding it in a letter to the editor of the Arkansas Gazette from an Arkansas State fan who accused Broyles of hiding from his responsibility of giving football fans in this state a game that should be played. This was in the fall of 1975. Both teams were having outstanding seasons.
The term, “You can run but you can’t hide,” followed Broyles from angry Red Wolves’ fans right up to the day he retired as athletic director.
So why did Broyles, and Barnhill before him, stick to such a policy? The simplest explanation was that Arkansas would not benefit from such games but ASU would. If the Hogs won, they were supposed to win. No big deal. If they ever lost, it would energize and expand the Arkansas State fanbase.
Was this accurate?
For years the only example was a 1987 post season NIT basketball matchup between Arkansas and Arkansas State in Barnhill Arena. Arkansas won that game but had to come from behind to do so. To this day there are those who say Nolan Richardson would have been fired if Arkansas State had won. If true, you could erase three Final Fours, a national championship and a national runner up finish from the Hogs’ basketball resume.
Yeah, that would have been a negative for Arkansas.
Would the consequences be that dire for a loss in football? To me, it would be hard for any Arkansas head football coach to keep his job after losing such a game but who really knows? The bottom line is, it’s 2021 and the current AD wants to play this game and it looks like it will probably be played beyond 2025 as well. After all, once the Hogs and Red Wolves tee it up, the genie will be out of the bottle and, as they say, you can’t put it back.