In December 2009, a Virgina sports radio talk show host reminded his state’s governor of a popular in-state basketball competition from decades ago. Basketball fans in Virginia had told the host they wanted to see that tournament return, and he passed their message on to Governor Bob McDonnell.
The message, evidentally, was well received.
In August 2011, the governor announced the creation of a December doubleheader between four in-state Division I basketball programs. Not only will the event, scheduled for two years, benefit sports fans in that state, but it will help a good cause. Proceeds go to Virginia’s Food Banks, which are especially in need around Christmas.
Virginians saw an opportunity to capitalize on the recent NCAA Tournament successes of some of their D1 programs, and help the hungry while at it, and they struck.
So should Arkansans.
Never before has Arkansas had a better opportunity to form an event between four Division I basketball programs. For many years, Arkansas’ only four D1 programs included its flagship university – UA-Fayetteville. Forget the Razorbacks scheduling in-state competition, however. That policy’s origins, and arguments for and against, have already gotten plenty of cyber-ink. No reason to spill more here, as this post focuses on the other programs]
But when the University of Central Arkansas became a full-fledged Division 1 member in 2010, UA-Fayetteville was no longer a necessary participant in a theoretical competition between the state’s top programs. And it’s UCA’s athletic director, Brad Teague, who strongly advocates scheduling such a competition: “I think it’s something certainly all the [local] basketball coaches talk about and think would be good for the state to do.”
Fans would love this event, especially if it’s located in a central Arkansas, which is within a 45-minute drive for most UAPB, UALR and UCA fans. “I think it would sell out,” says Oliver Fitzpatrick, who works as head basketball coach of Little Rock Central High School and has coached and refereed in various AAU-related events. He points to an upward trend in number and size of basketball-related events in central Arkansas – from the emergence of the UALR women’s program as a mid-major power to the annual Real Deal in the Rock, a youth grassroots basketball tournament that has become the nation’s largest such event in the spring.
It appears basketball hasn’t been this popular in-state since the mid-1990s , when the Razorbacks’ national success drove tens of thousands of Arkansas kids to the gym to hone their jump shots. And, with Mike Anderson’s return as head Hog, the game will become even more popular (you had better believe new ABA teams in Little Rock and Jonesboro are banking on this).
One possible hiccup to making this theoretical tournament a reality is programs not wanting to schedule more games against opponents they already play. UCA will play ASU this season (and is in talks with UALR for future seasons) while ASU and UALR are in the same conference and play each other at least twice a year. This is why the ACC’s Virginia Tech and Virginia won’t play in the aforementioned governor’s event in the same year.
It’s likely, however, that the valuable exposure UALR or ASU could gain would outweigh such qualms. Very rarely do the non-Razorback teams command the state’s media spotlight (UAPB and UALR’s recent March Madness runs notwithstanding) and this event would give all four other programs a regular platform. Indeed, Teague said he’s spoken to all the programs’ coaches and all athletic directors except UAPB’s, and initial signs are positive. “Everybody agrees it’s a good idea. It’s just trying to make it work with logistics.”
So far, primary hurdles are settling on a date and venue. Teague said the event’s most likely date would the Thanksgiving or Christmas break, and likely venues are UALR’s Jack Stephens arena (capacity 5,600) or Verizon Arena (capacity 18,000). “It would make sense in Verizon, however you’ve got to pay the [rental] fees to Verizon, while [UALR] is sitting there with a great arena and they’re thinking ‘Well, why would we want to pay fees?’ And the rest of the schools are probably thinking, ‘Well, we don’t want to play at UA-Little Rock’s arena.'”
In order to settle on an arena, however, the schools need info. Their people need to estimate how many people would actually want to watch this event. Information indicating whether 5,000 or 15,000 people would buy tickets can help. That’s where you can step in.
The details can be ironed out later, but the bottom line is:
*One obvious question is whether this four-team event would be a two-round tournament or simply a doubleheader. The former would likely be played over two days, while the latter would be a one-day event. New-school athletic program economics may favor the one-day event over a two-game commitment but for the sake of some good old-school flavor and fun, I want to see a tournament and annual champion.
11/18 ADDITION: If UA-Fayetteville did decide to play in-state competition, how much additional interest would be generated if the Hogs played the winner of this tournament in Fayetteville? It’s an interesting idea thrown out by HogBreath, a user on the Razorback sports message board Hogville:
UALR, UAPB, UCA, and Arkansas State should have a tournament each year. Hold it at Verizon Arena in Little Rock. Half the proceeds go to the University of Arkansas, they can split the rest.
They get to play a game in Bud Walton Arena against the Razorback. If 15,000 tickets aren’t sold, they have to make up the difference financially for us.
Not the UofA’s fault they in their history didn’t put in the effort to become an elite, BCS level program(academically and athletically). They have to provide incentive for us to play them.