Razorbacks’ 2015 Schedule Portends Death of Little Rock Tradition

Sign of the End Times
Sign of the End Times

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper.”

– T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

 

Yesterday, Arkansas released its 2015 schedule. Also released: Any enduring hope among Razorback fans that Little Rock and its no-longer-grand-enough War Memorial Stadium will remain a second home.

The process of ushering the doddering old man out the door has been ongoing for about 15 years now, ever since Fayetteville’s Reynolds Razorback Stadium expanded to 72,000 from 51,000 seats – meaning Hogs leave significant money on the table every time it plays a home game away from its home campus at the 55,000-seat War Memorial Stadium instead.

Games at War Memorial have dropped from three or four a year, to two a year – and starting this season through 2018 – one a year. This Saturday’s game in Little Rock against No. 10 Georgia, the SEC East frontrunner, is a marquee matchup with enough significance to somewhat soften the blow for some War Memorial traditionalists. It should be a sellout.

Not so with next year’s Little Rock game against the University of Toledo, a Mid-American Conference program that has lost all three games it has ever played against SEC competition. This Arkansas-Toledo game, which marks the first time since 1947 (vs. North Texas) Arkansas hasn’t played a conference home game in Little Rock, is the latest sign Razorback leaders are phasing out the home-away-from-home tradition altogether.  Given the opponent isn’t even in a Power 5 conference, “how many people will pony up $55 or more per person just to see Arkansas vs Toledo?,” Arkansas Fight’s Doc Harper asked.  “I can envision more people than usual staying on the golf course.”

Some fans may feel remorse Little Rock’s once central place in the Razorbacks’ schedule has been knocked down so many rungs, but they shouldn’t forget the main motives behind this demotion – “brand building” and revenue generation – are the same reasons Little Rock was used as a second home in the first place. In the early 1930s, Arkansas leaders knew if their program was ever going to become nationally competitive it needed to have more support from its entire state, to stop losing the likes of Ken Kavanaugh (Little Rock High grad) to LSU and Don Hutson (Pine Bluff High) and Paul Bryant (Fordyce High) to Alabama. So Arkansas leaders, like leaders at Alabama, Mississippi State and Oregon State, decided to take their team away from its rural campus and parade it in a bigger, in-state city in front of more media and fans.

Oregon did the same by traveling from Eugene to Portland. Washington State traveled from Pullman to Spokane, while Ole Miss traveled to Jackson and Auburn traveled to Birmingham. Each of the programs pulled out of these metro areas at different times but one overriding reason is the same as in Arkansas’ case – the campus’ stadium simply outgrew the metro area’s stadium.

Across the U.S., examples of home away from home traditions are legion.

This especially came to the fore in the late 1980s as Auburn jockeyed to stop playing Iron Bowl games in Birmingham, as I wrote in the New York Times last  November: “Auburn leaders increasingly supported moving the game from the 75,000-seat Legion Field to the university’s expanded Jordan-Hare Stadium, which could hold 85,000. Housel [a former Auburn athletic director] said it got to the point that even Auburn fans living in Birmingham were so ready to drive the 120 miles to campus, they would ‘refuse to buy tickets to the Auburn-Alabama game if it was in Birmingham.’”

Every team, as you see in the chart below, has dropped its dual home arrangement in the last 50 years. And programs like Oregon, Virginia Tech, Alabama and Auburn have gone on to contend for or win national championships since the drop. Yes, War Memorialists, it’s true: Arkansas has become unique in the sense that it appears to be the only program still hanging on to this practice.

But is that something to be proud of?

It’s better to be proud of winning at a high level, a la Oregon, Auburn and Alabama. But clinging to War Memorial hasn’t recently helped Arkansas get to this level. Its function was served in helping lift Arkansas to the nationally elite level it enjoyed in much of the 1960s through 1980s. It will not serve in getting Arkansas to the level Jeff Long, Bret Bielema et al expect it to reach in the later 2010s and 2020s.

In the 1930s and 40s, the smartest rural programs traveled 30, 50, 100, 150 miles to the in-state stadia that would give their teams the most bang for their buck in terms of exposure and revenue. In today’s world, where cable television and the Internet make distance far less of an obstacle for fans to follow their teams, the smartest programs realize that “neutral site” games in the obscenely talent-rich metro areas of Texas often provide the best return.

This is an update of an earlier Sports Seer post. Read the original here

Other Schools with Multiple Home Stadia

Oregon
Home Campus: Eugene
Home Away From Home: Portland
Years Played There: On and off until 1924, then every year through 1966.
Last Game: 1970
Distance Between Homes: 105 miles

Big Win: 21-0 over a UCLA team that would finish 8-2 on Oct. 5, 1957.
Sample Decade: 1952-62: Record of 11-11*

*Includes rivalry games w/ Oregon State


Oregon State
Home Campus: Corvallis

Home Away From Home: Portland
Years Played There: On and off until 1941, then every year through 1973. (w/ exception of two WWII years in which team wasn’t fielded)
Last Game: 1986
Distance Between Homes: 74 miles

Big Win: Oct. 16, 1971- 24-18 over an Arizona State team which would finish 11-1.
Sample Decade: 1963-73: Record of 11-4


Washington State
Home Campus: Pullman

#1 Home Away From Home: Spokane*
Years Played There: 1950-1983
Last Game: 1983
Distance Between Homes: 66 miles

*In 1970, WSU’s home stadium burned due to suspected arson (possibly involving a perpetrator from the rival University of Idaho only eight miles away). As a result, WSU played all its home games in Spokane in 1970 and 1971.

Big Win: Sept. 23, 1978 – 51-26 over an Arizona State team which would finish 51-26.
Sample Decade: 1973-83: Record of 8-12

#2 Home Away From Home: Seattle (the Seattle Seahawks’ stadium, Centurylink Field)
Years Played non-UW opponents there: 2002 through 2008; 2011; 2012-14*
Last Game: Ongoing
Distance Between Homes: 252

Big Win: August 31, 2002 – 31-7 over Nevada to set the tone for a 10-3 season that ended in the Rose Bowl.
Record since 2002 at what’s now Centurylink Field: 6-4

*N.B. the campus of this program’s rival – the University of Washington – is in Seattle. So WSU often plays WU there. Washington State had also played three home games in Seattle against out-of-state powerhouses (USC, Ohio State) in the 1970s. It lost them all.


Ole Miss
Home Campus: Oxford

#1 Home Away From Home: Memphis, TN
Years Played There: 1935-1968 (except for 1943 [WWII] and 1964)
Last Game: 1996
Distance Between Homes: 57 miles

Big Win: Nov. 13, 1965 – Gave Tennessee its only defeated of the season 14-13. The Volunteers finished with an 8-1-2 record.
Sample Decade: 1958-1968: Record of 12-1*

*Includes games with the University of Tennessee and Arkansas.

#2 Home Away From Home: Jackson, MS
Years Played There: On and off until 1964, then 1964 thru 1993*
Last Game: 1996
Distance Between Homes: 146 miles

Big Win: Sept 17, 1977: 20-13 over a Notre Dame team which would finish 11-1.
Sample Decade: 1972-1982: Record of 16-23-1

* Includes annual rivalry game with Mississippi State; In 1973 and 1979, Ole Miss played five games in Jackson and two in Oxford. Also regularly played Southern Miss (with a campus 87 miles away) in Jackson.


Mississippi State University

Home Campus: Starkville
Home Away From Home: Jackson
Years Played There: On and off until 1961, then 1961 through 1990*
Last Game: 1990
Distance Between Homes: 112 miles

Big Win: Nov. 1, 6-3 over an Alabama team which would finish 10-2
Sample Decade: 1975-1985: 18-18

Includes annual rivalry game with Ole Miss; In 1973 and 1979, MSU played five games in Jackson and two in Starkville. Also regularly played Southern Miss (with a campus 87 miles away) in Jackson.


Alabama
Home Campus: Tuscaloosa

#1 Home Away From Home: Birmingham
Years Played There: 1900-2003*
Last Game: 2003
Distance Between Homes: 47 miles

Big Win: Oct. 21, 1989 – 47-30 over a Tennessee team which would finish 11-1.
Sample Decade: 1984-1993: Record of 21-11-1

*Includes annual rivalry game with Auburn and SEC championship games. In 1987, played all home games in Birmingham because of major renovation of home stadium.

#2 Home Away From Home: Montgomery
Years Played There: On and off until 1954 ; Annually 1922 through 1934.
Last Game: 1954
Distance Between Homes: 95 miles

Big Win: Nov. 14,1925: Preserved undefeated season by beating Florida (which would finish 8-2) 34-0.
Sample Decade: 1922-1931: Record of 10-1


Auburn
#1 Home Away From Home: Birmingham
Years Played There: 1904 through 1988
Last Game: 1998
Distance Between Homes: 99 miles

*After 1974, only played rivalry games there with Tennessee and Alabama

Big Win: Sept. 39, 1972 – 10-6 over a Tennessee team which would finish 10-2
Sample Decade: 1967-1975: Record of 10-7

#2 Home Away From Home: Montgomery
Years Played There: 1920-1951
Last Game: 1953
Distance Between Homes: 49 miles

Big Win: Oct. 19, 1935 – 23-0 over a 3-1 Kentucky team
Sample Decade: 1931-1940: Record of 17-3


Virginia Tech
Home Campus: Blacksburg
Home Away From Home: Roanoke
Years Played There: Through 1971; Used almost exclusively as site of rivalry game with Virginia Military Institute until 1936
Last Game: 1971
Distance Between Homes: 26 miles

Big Win: Nov. 30, 1922 – 7-3 over a VMI team which would finish 7-2
Sample Decade: 1936-1947: Record of 4-8-3

For the full, original article on the history of War Memorial and dual-home traditions, go here

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