Calipari’s Stance on UA vs Memphis Gives Clue to Thinking on Challenge from A-State

John Calipari, Bryan Hodgson, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas State basketball, Arkansas vs Arkansas State
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Arkansas State Athletics

Arkansas has had a complete stranglehold on the college basketball world for the last three days. Despite the allure of both of the sport’s national title games taking place in the same stretch, the majority of the headlines have been stolen by Kentucky head coach John Calipari’s shocking move to Fayetteville.

While Kentucky sports reporters have tried their best to drum up reports of the deal souring, national reporters have remained consistent that it is going through without any hitches. The Arkansas marketing team put away all doubt Tuesday afternoon, with updated video graphics boards inside Bud Walton Arena reflecting the impending hire, showing Calipari in a Photoshopped red jacket.

The Tweet from Arkansas sports broadcaster Trey Schapp depicting this has been deleted in the last few hours but expect these kinds of images to resurface publicly after Calipari has officially been approved by the Arkansas Board of Trustees on Wednesday morning.

Plus, there’s this coming down the chute:

In an in-state twist, Arkansas State basketball coach Bryan Hodgson joined in on the news surge by calling out the Head Hog before he’s even stepped on campus at his new job.

The Red Wolves coach is clearly capitalizing on the headlines to try and secure a head-to-head matchup with the state’s flagship university. Surprisingly, the two teams have not met in the regular season since 1948.

A lot of the recent tension between the athletic programs came from A-State’s last head coach, Mike Balado, who was pretty brash in shooting down any possibility of a matchup with the Hogs – at least while he was in charge. Eric Musselman tried on multiple occasions to schedule the matchup a few years ago to no avail.

“When you play games, they have to benefit both teams,” Balado said. “We’re not going to get bullied into playing a game just because it benefits one team. We don’t do that. We’re not nobody’s little brother. We’re going to play basketball when it’s a benefit to us and the other team.”

Well then. Fortunately for the prospects of this potential rivalry, Balado was fired last year after managing just one winning season in six years in Jonesboro. Taking his place was the younger and much more personable Hodgson, who is clearly much more versed in marketing than his predecessor.

The Nate Oates disciple engineered an impressive turnaround in his first season, steering the Red Wolves to the 20-win mark. It would be great PR for the Red Wolves to make the trip over to Fayetteville, especially with all the hype that will be surrounding the program in Calipari’s inaugural season in charge. 

That matchup makes a lot of financial sense, for obvious reasons, and is truly a scenario where the Red Wolves would have nothing to lose.

John Calipari: Rivalry Killer?

Perhaps Calipari, in this way, can play a hand in sparking a new rivalry for the Razorbacks. Meanwhile, he does not have the best reputation when it comes to preserving historic rivalries involving Arkansas basketball. The 65-year-old infamously killed the hotly-contested slates between the Razorbacks and Memphis during his time coaching the Tigers in the early 2000s.

The border rivalry was good for an entertaining run of games, as the two met annually from 1991-92 to 2002-03. Arkansas holds an 11-10 all-time lead in the series.

But for the young, hotshot Calipari, that wasn’t good enough. “We have to play national games,” Calipari told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2002. “You can’t play regional games if you’re being a national program. We don’t need Arkansas to sell out our building.” 

That’s quite a statement for the leader of a Conference USA team, no matter how strong, to make about one of the SEC’s best programs. Based on this kind of logic, it would appear unlikely that Coach Cal would give the Red Wolves the time of day. Arkansas State is the very definition of “regional” and as an opponent holds much less potential value to the Razorbacks’ brand than the Hogs held for Memphis 20 years ago.

Before Arkansas fans turn up their nose at those quotes from two decades ago, they should know that Calipari’s view of the Razorbacks has changed a lot over the years – Jon Rothstein reported that he “has held the job in Arkansas in high regard” for a long time. Clearly that’s true, or the Hall of Famer wouldn’t have left his cushy, albeit rapidly warming, seat at Kentucky for this job.

While we’re on the topic, it would certainly be a sight to see for Arkansas to reignite its old rivalry with Memphis now that Calipari’s flashy suits will be adorned with Razorback red. The former Tigers coach regularly facing off against Penny Hardaway and his former program that he brought to the brink of a national title in 2008. The headlines would practically write themselves.

Arkansas Basketball Could Follow Others

Arkansas basketball could take a cue from the other two major sports on campus in prioritizing in-state opposition in non-conference play. Recent years have seen the football team take on UAPB, and they will do it again in the upcoming season opener this fall. 

In 2025, the Hogs will face the Red Wolves on the gridiron. It will be the first time the two programs have ever met in football.

Baseball coach Dave Van Horn has made a habit of making time for in-state schools, regularly facing them in midweek matchups. This season Diamond Hogs have already faced off against Arkansas State, UALR and UCA – the former two ended in run-rule victories for the Hogs, but the Bears gave them a run for their money in a close 9-7 win.

The current No. 1 team in the nation will also take on UAPB on April 23.

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