Tulsa Columnist Puts Hogs Ahead of OU, with Ohio State, Georgia, Texas in NIL Outlook

Sam Pittman Brent Venables
Craven Whitlow

Green Country in northeastern Oklahoma is a weird place. Well, in more ways than the fentanyl crisis, rampant poverty, extreme economic disparity and perpetual voting against self-interest, even, point to. Those are all a given. Arklahoma, which is what the region is called by locals of a certain age, exists in a world that is not quite Arkansas and note quite Oklahoma.

The regions of Northwest Arkanasas and Tulsa share a highway, culture and, nowadays, size. Many of the people who live in the area between the two metros are fans of either the Razorbacks or Sooners and living in a home in which the other team is also popular – with a spouse or the like – is quite common. Then, of course, there are the others who live in the region, those who love one, but are convinced the other is their mortal enemy.

For the longest time at family get-togethers outside of Stilwell, Okla., just a 45-minute drive from the University of Arkansas campus, my cousin Chris and I were outnumbered by the OU fans in our family. The discrepancy was probably 3 to 1. The non-sports lovers didn’t really take sides, even if in their hearts they had a rooting interest. 

But that the discrepancy was only 3 to 1 in the Sooner State in a home in which more than a couple members were OU grads. Those family members lorded over Chris and I due to the Sooners’ relative dominance. Sure, Arkansas had its national championship in the mid-1990s, but since? And in football? Please. It was a pig roasting.

Oklahoma and Arkansas in SEC’s Pecking Order

That doesn’t mean, however, that the folks in Arklahoma don’t love their Sooners and, to a lesser extent, their Cowboys. So when Bill Haisten, a former colleague of mine at the Tulsa World, wrote that the Sooners are in for a bit of a rude awakening from the SEC, where schools don’t just win football games because they lucked into Bob Stoops, the effect was tremulous for those who prefer OU’s version of crimson-and-cream over Arkansas’ cardinal-and-white – much like the earthquakes fracking have wrought in the region the last couple decades.

“Yes, the Sooners will make a lot more money in the SEC than they got in the Big 12,” Haisten wrote. “From an NIL standpoint, however, OU will have to spend like crazy to be competitive in the SEC. OU will have to spend like Arkansas is about to spend.”

Arkansas should join the ranks of the Ohio States, Georgias, Texases and Texas A&M’s when it comes to money flow, Haisten wrote. That’s a hell of a prediction to come from anybody, never mind a non-Arkansan non-homer. It speaks to the kind of watershed moment that some believe this will turn out to be for the entire Razorbacks athletic department.

Texas, definitely, outspends almost everyone and has had but modest success relative to that cost. But now, with the SEC branding and backing alongside such cash, the Longhorns are poised to turn into the next Alabama (not saying that will happen; saying it definitely can considering everything in the Longhorns’ favor).

The Razorbacks will have to prove it, of course, as OU fans aren’t running for the hills, so to speak, after Arkansas’ hiring of John Calipari and the Sooners’ move to the SEC. But they’re also fully aware the SEC is not the Big 12. Consistent success – never mind domination – is far from a given. Wins will be much harder to come by now that Oklahoma is playing in the best football conference in the country instead of, say, the fifth. No doubt, Oklahoma’s inclusion into the SEC is part of the reason the league will hold its place as the best in the sport, but the gauntlet is one such that job security is tenuous at those best schools.

Arkansas is now going well beyond the “talking the talk” phase of striving to become one of those best schools. John Tyson’s brokering of Calpari’s deal with the Razorbacks was the first clear-cut sign that the monied players of NWA, what with its three Fortune 500 companies within a 15-mile stretch of road, may finally be ready to throw their weight behind those Hogs. Calipari’s hiring has sent enough of a jolt down Highway 412 to Tulsa that those around OU are a little more worried now than my cousins were at Thanksgiving some 10, 20 years ago.

At first blush, it’s hard to imagine Arkansas or Oklahoma receiving the same level of NIL contributions that places like those aforementioned get. Enrollment at those schools is about twice what it is at Arkansas. Their alumni bases are twice the size, more or less, of Oklahoma’s and Arkansas’. If all alum were created equal, those three schools would dominate into perpetuity simply by quantity. There’s a reason, after all, Arkansas Edge has sent you a dozen (or more) emails since its inception late last year. Sell, sell, sell.

Big Money for Razorbacks, NIL

If Arkansas isn’t getting the dollars it needs, then it needs its most powerful alum to make up the difference. Or, if the Hogs are lucky, a bunch of those people who have moved to NWA in the last 25 years have adopted Arkansas as their new favorite. The good news for the Razorbacks is that their kids almost certainly have..

That is another hurdle. Arkansas’ fan base is deeply passionate and die-hard. The Razorbacks are the only game in town, so to speak. But Oklahoma’s fan base is more powerful and everyone knows it. Sooners fans far outnumber Hogs fans and data from view-counts and click-rates and Nielsen confirm as much. The greater Oklahoma City area is growing at just about the same rate as Northwest Arkansas’, too, so the Razorbacks’ bean-counters can’t bank on sheer population growth to bolster the money totals.

The Tysons of Tyson, the Hunts of JB Hunt and the Waltons of Walmart all have the financial firepower to make any population or alumni discrepancies moot. Unless Jeff Bezos decides to invest in Maryland Terrapins football or Elon Musk invests in…nevermind, no school can match what Arkansas could do in the donation and NIL world. No school.

We’re already seeing signs of that kind of financial firepower beyond the contracts of Calipari and Kenny Payne, now the highest-paid assistant in Arkansas basketball history.

The NIL bidding war for some of the most desirable former UK signees will soon be in full effect as Karter Knox and Jayden Quaintance are set to visit Arkansas soon (Knox’s trip is today while Quaintance’s is TBA).

But the older guys who have already proven themselves against top competition are fetching the kind of sums that would make your great-grandpa choke on his blueberry pie. Take Johnell Davis, the 6’4″ dynamo from Florida Atlantic, who averaged 18.2 ppg, 41.4 3 PT%, 6.3 RPG and 2.9 APG last season and is rated by The Athletic as the top uncommitted prospect in the transfer portal.

According to below report by veteran sportswriter Dick Weiss, there’s a good chance that if wherever Davis lands, he’s going to make more than any assistant coach on his team:

Comparable “Splashy Hire” in Arkansas Football?

What has begun in basketball has clear spillover potential into the king sport of the south.

“Time will tell to see if those same people are as generous regarding football, but it won’t surprise me if a year from now we’re talking about Arkansas having made a comparably splashy hire in football,” Haisten said in the below video. “I think this is a big, big, big year for Sam Pittman. Arkansas, they’ve not won a conference title in 35 years. They’ve not won a national title in 60 years. I just think their people are like, ‘Why not us?” And they’re willing to spend to make that happen.”

Speaking of that last national championship on the gridiron, it’s time to mention Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys who won it all with the Razorbacks to cap the 1964 season. If you believe everything you read on the internet, he may also be getting into the NIL game.

Regardless of the validity of that “report,” Tyson’s involvement in the Calipari selection suggests, for the first time, a willingness for the extremely wealthy to toss their hat in the ring. Forget naming rights to student success centers and meeting rooms. Ignore donations for improvement to locker rooms and coaches offices. Such things are required to meet the minimum threshold for competition in high-level athletics. They are what allow teams to compete with more consistency than their less-monied counterparts.

But in this day and age, when players and coaches rightfully command a bigger piece of the monetary pie, Joe and Jane Fan are not yet ready to supply the needed dough. As it becomes more and more the norm, as generations pass, maybe, but for now, the big dogs have to come to the porch and eat. 

Such dogs live throughout Northwest Arkansas and if they decide to join the fray, finally, there may be some true differentiation between Arkansas and Oklahoma, instead of the strange middle ground of Green Country.


More from Bill Haisten on the Razorbacks here:

YouTube video

More coverage of Arkansas basketball, John Calipari and NIL from BoAS… 

Facebook Comments