The Arkansas baseball team wasn’t even off the field on Sunday before the sarcastic social media posts started.
“Arkansas is – still – a track school.”
(Full disclosure: Hi, it’s me. I’m the sarcastic social media user, it’s me.)
The pushback came pretty quickly and, frankly, as Tuesday trudged along the question kept getting tossed around … What is Arkansas? Is it a football school? Basketball or baseball? Or is it actually a track and field (and probably cross country) school?
In one group, you’ve got people who say fan interest and attendance determines the answer. These folks tend to be in the football camp. But the latter viewpoint is aided by architecture and the once-per-week schedule.
It’s much easier to get to Reynolds Razorback Stadium every Saturday than to attend mid-week events in other sports. As for fan engagement, the lean football years of the past decade hurt the overall fan interest.
A solid case could be made that the rise of men’s basketball and baseball happening at the same time the football team was treading water opened the door for a renewed debate about Arkansas being a basketball or baseball school.
Others say years of high-level performance determine the answer to “School X is a (blank) school.” If so, then five seasons below .500 in the past 10 years disqualifies football.
Basketball, of course, has been blazing hot the past few seasons with two Elite Eights and one Sweet 16. The basketball team has also been consistently good for the past decade with six NCAA Tournament appearances in 10 years.
With nine NCAA postseason berths in 10 years, four College World Series trips and one national runner-up, Dave Van Horn’s program has been the team posting the best seasons year after year. So a strong case could be made that Arkansas is a baseball school.
Can’t Forget Arkansas Track
But if that’s your criteria for making your selection, how do you ignore the track program?
The final way of looking at the question is – which team is hanging championship banners on a regular basis? If success is your criteria, then Arkansas is unquestionably a track school.
The Razorbacks have won 37 national championships – including indoor titles earlier this year. The men have won five of the last 10 SEC outdoor championships, while the women have hung seven SEC banners.
The men have won seven indoor SEC titles in the decade, with a potential five-peat next season. The women have won 10 consecutive indoor SEC titles. In cross country, it’s seven SEC titles for the men and nine of 10 for the women. That’s a lot of hardware.
(Admittedly, the track team gets more shots at hardware with indoor, outdoor and cross country championships for men and women on the line.)
But, despite that sustained excellence, fan interest and media coverage pales in comparison to a 7-6 football team playing in a third-tier bowl game.
Of course, this opens the door to some odd hills to die on. For example, was North Carolina a men’s basketball or women’s soccer school in the 2000s? The basketball team won two national titles in that decade, while the futbol team took home five. Only a committed contrarian would say UNC was a women’s soccer school and not a men’s basketball school.
Maybe “Arkansas is a <insert sport here> school” is an unanswerable debate. Maybe it’s good offseason fodder along the lines of “Who is on your Mount Rushmore of Arkansas Razorbacks?”
Lance Harter’s Last Lap
Of course, it’s not the offseason yet.
The NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships are this week. The Arkansas men are ranked No. 1 and the women are No. 3.
The meet is the final lap for longtime women’s track coach Lance Harter. Two years ago, the 73-year-old announced his retirement following the end of the 2023 season.
His teams have won 45 SEC titles and seven national championships during his 33-year tenure. Longtime assistant coach Chris Johnson – who has worked under Harter for 12 years – will take over July 1.
Harter’s Razorbacks were also ranked third going into the indoor championships in March. They edged Texas by just four points, 64-60. Florida was a distant third with 45 points. The Longhorns are No. 1 and Florida No. 2 heading into the NCAA meet in Austin. But Arkansas will be without Lauren Gregory, a distance specialist who won SEC individual titles in the mile and 3,000 meters, but broke her foot at the NCAA indoors.
Before the injury, she finished second in the mile and anchored a relay team that was also a runner-up.
“Can we win against Texas again on their home track and without Lauren?” Harter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Definitely we’ve got an opportunity to win. But I think realistically, we’d like to be among the top four and get a trophy. Texas will be highly motivated after they were supposed to win the indoors and we beat them.”
ESPN will be airing the NCAA meet with men and women alternating days. The men’s first day will air Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU with the final day on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. on Friday. Harter’s squad will start the meet on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and finish on Saturday at 8 p.m. Both days will be on ESPN2.
Scott Faldon spent 20 years in sports journalism in Arkansas before going to the dark side of marketing. He’s a noted contrarian and pot stirrer.
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