These are heady days for the Central Arkansas Bears. In the Division I college football opener in late August, they went and dispatched Austin Peay in the last two minutes of the game. Then, just five days later, they went to Birmingham to play UAB in the first game for an FBS team. In between, UCA coach Nathan Brown did an interesting interview on sports radio.
WHAT IS UCA?
The University of Central Arkansas has changed a whole lot since I was at “Boy’s State” there in the summer of 1983. I remember being completely underwhelmed by what used to be the Arkansas State Teacher’s College. From my vantage point, or at least from where I lived for that week, I didn’t see anything that made me think of it as a legit college.
Of course, at that time I was playing for Little Rock Central High in Quigley Stadium — which was probably larger than UCA’s stadium at the time. If I remember correctly, UCA’s student population at the time was around 5,000. Today, it’s about 11,000, nearly the same size as the University of Arkansas when I went there.
Yes, a lot of things can change in a few decades. A drive through UCA’s campus these days reveals a traditional college campus — a much classier vibe than in the early 1980s. Since then, UCA has become ready for prime time.
And it shows on the football field too. UCA has been nationally relevant in the FCS for years now. It also helps that they get significant airtime in central Arkansas thanks to the broadcast of their games on the 103.7 “The Buzz,” and sports radio host Justin Acri’s ties to the program as an announcer and host of the weekly UCA coach’s show.
EYES OF THE NATION:
Now, in 2020 (the year of Covid) UCA has found itself playing nationally significant, non-conferencet games that wouldn’t have been possible if its Southland Conference didn’t close up shop for the fall. There were those first games, a 27-17 loss to Austin Peay and a loss to UAB, both televised nationally on ESPN.
Soon, they will play Bobby Petrino’s Missouri State squad and then will be the only opponent of the fall for North Dakota State — the Floyd Mayweather of college football programs in its pound for pound dominance.
This means, on and off, UCA will continue to be the occasional talk of ESPN — even it’s not 100% positive:
This is all great exposure for the team, though. And when it comes to building a football program, exposure is key.
Which leads us back to that Nathan Brown interview on the Morning Rush, ESPN 99.5 FM. At the very end, almost as an afterthought, he was asked about he felt about a match-up with the Hogs.
ALL BIDNESS, ALL THE TIME:
H.L. Mencken once wrote, “Whenever they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”
In addition to his football playing exploits at Russellville High School and later at UCA, it turns out that Nathan Brown is also a businessman, and an honest one at that. I’d like to be among the first to congratulate Coach Brown for his honesty.
When he was asked if he’d like to see the Bears to get a shot at the Hogs, he said it “of course.” It’s not because it’s against Arkansas, the biggest boy on the block, but because it’s an SEC money game only two and a half hours away — “you can reduce expenses by not having to spend the night….”
WHAT’S A MONEY GAME?
Basically, it’s when the big boys pay the little boys to come to their stadium for what’s usually a warm up scrimmage. This usually results in one win closer to bowl eligibility. These games are commonly referred to as a “Rent-a-Wins”
The UCAs of the world stand to get good money (we paid $1.5 million to San Jose State for our loss last year), which helps them with resources for their program and the Arkansas of the world (are supposed to) get a win. Granted, the last year of Bret Bielema and the Chad Morris era kind of screwed everything up in terms of taking any win for granted. Given UCA beat Western Kentucky last year, and Western Kentucky then thrashed Arkansas, the Bears likely would have beaten the Hogs at the Chad Morris era.
But don’t fret: Sam Pittman will get the Hogs back to handily beating FCS teams that aren’t NDSU in no time.
Expect UCA vs Arkansas in football to happen eventually.
Given the way Hunter Yurachek has opened the gates to in-state competition, it’s no longer a pipe dream. The two schools have already scheduled to play each other in other sports like volleyball. “The University of Arkansas is now open to playing its sister institutions in athletics competitions,” UCA Athletic Director Brad Teague said earlier this summer.
“Our coaches have been working with their coaches on scheduling. Many of our teams will play at Fayetteville this coming year. However, our volleyball teams will play at UCA in a few months. It is exciting that our first contest with Arkansas will be on our campus.”
HERE’S THE DEAL:
Nathan Brown grew up in Arkansas and understands Arkansas.
He knows that barring a cataclysmic earthquake with an epicenter directly below the Greek Theater that destroys the campus, UCA will never be the top dog in the state for football. Hell, it’ll be a huge achievement just to permanently wrest second dog status from Arkansas State (even if they do win the UCA-A-State game this season).
As such, Brown doesn’t sound like he cares much about being the top dog…….in Arkansas. Instead, it seems to me that he’s looking at his Southland Conference, and what’s achievable and what’s best for UCA’s program. And, what’s best for UCA programs is to play money games against whomever that may be. If it’s Arkansas, great. If it’s Ole Miss? No problem.
He may lose some battles on the field along the way, but he’ll win the war that must be waged to build a great program with that attitude.
Take the money and run, Coach Brown. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working.