For a group of Razorback fans, the idea of playing in-state opponents is — and always will be — inadvisable at best, abominable at worst. Why should the state’s flagship university, which has a monopoly on the devotions of most sports fans within one small state’s borders, risk ANY of that devotion by splitting loyalties?
This has been the line of argument for decades, especially during the reign of Frank Broyles, the legendary former Razorback head football coach and athletic director.
But current athletic director Hunter Yurachek isn’t buying this theory.
In recent months, he agreed to contests between Arkansas and Arkansas-Little Rock and between Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) in baseball, tennis and softball.
Then, on Wednesday, he dropped a hammer: The Razorbacks will play UAPB in football, the most lucrative of college sports.
“As the flagship institution within our state, scheduling games with our sister institutions is an opportunity for us to enhance interest in college football throughout our state while supporting other schools within the University of Arkansas system,” Yurachek said in a press release. “We have already witnessed the anticipation these meetings have created in a number of our other sports. This new football series between Arkansas and UAPB will only add to the excitement for these matchups.”
For Yurachek, the idea simply made sense.
He and Razorback football coach Chad Morris haven’t been shy about public stating they want to emulate Clemson (and to a lesser extent Alabama) football as models. For non-conference games, those programs use scheduling models involving one FCS school, a couple of Group of Five schools, and a Power 5 school as mandated by conferences.
“That’s a schedule that’s worked well for, and is similar to, Alabama and Clemson,” Yurachek told the Buzz 103.7’s David Bazzel on Thursday morning. “We’re not Alabama and Clemson, but the same scheduling philosophy that those two schools that participated in a national championship game had them playing an FCS school.”
“So why not keep that money that we’re paying an FCS school within the state, and help one of our sister schools where they just have to bus over?” Yurachek continued. “As opposed to busing a significant distance or getting on a charter flight.”
David Bazzel then asked him if playing UAPB opens the door to playing better in-state football program like UCA and especially Arkansas State, a perennial Sun Belt power. Yurachek replied: “I’m not going to say that it’s never going to happen, but what I’m going to say right now is we’re just taking a step.”
“And that step is to open that up to schools within the system, and that’s what I felt comfortable with… You know we (Yurachek and the University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz) just weren’t ready to rip the bandaid off full bore. We’ve got some schools in our system that it’s important for us to support like Little Rock, like Pine Bluff, and that’s what we’re doing at this point.”
So how exactly will the support of Arkansas-Pine Bluff play out?
In football, it starts with two games, scheduled for 2021 and 2024, that will occur in Fayetteville. The specific amount that the UA will pay UAPB (a SWAC team that lost 92-0 last season to South Dakota State) for a sure-fire win isn’t yet known. That info was redacted on the contract released to the public.
However, Fox 16 reporters did press Melvin Hines II, UAPB’s athletic director, for more info and he told them the contract for the two games is a little less than $1.5 million. “It’s not always about the cash,” he told Fox 16. “It’s about the little bitty things that go along with being apart of the great Arkansas system.”
At the top of the list is brand recognition. Although historically the U of A and UAPB have deep ties (many of the first UA’s first black students, including pioneer law student Silas Hunt, originally attended what’s now called UAPB), that intertwined heritage is often forgotten in today’s big college sports landscape.
This series, though, will shine a spotlight on the schools’ ties. It will also help UAPB recruit more and better football players, Hines said. “It’s gonna be great. You always want to say you compete against the best. The University of Arkansas can only sign 25 scholarship players a year, so the rest can came to UAPB.”
The UAPB Golden Lions can use the prospect of playing the state’s most prestigious program as a recruiting tool. In fact, UAPB football coach Cedric Thomas said the news has already helped him land “two or three” UAPB football commitments.
The historically black college will also get an equipment upgrade. Part of the UAPB-UA football contract stipulates the Razorbacks will give UAPB 128 of its used lockers, worth roughly $7500 each. That equals almost $1 million.
“When Melvin and I were talking about this contract, and we were redoing their locker room, he was talking about the kind of poor nature of the locker rooms that they had right now… It just made sense for us to [donate] as opposed to putting those lockers in surplus, or putting them in storage.”
“I know he’s been able to spread those out not only just in the football locker room, but I think he’s benefited some of his women sports as well. So just a natural for us to not just totally discard those or sell those to someone else, but to give them to someone within our system.”Hunter Yurachek on donating a $1 million worth of equipment to UAPB, via Buzz 103.7
“Oh, it’s great,” UAPB quarterback Skyler Perrey said of the lockers to Fox 16. “It’ll be an extra improvement that they have, so we’re looking forward to that.”
To listen to the entire 103.7 The Buzz Hunter Yurachek interview, tune in below. He also chimes in with his thoughts on the baseball season, gymnastics and the hiring of Eric Musselman in basketball:
And below is more insight from Melvin Hines on UAPB vs UA:
“Everybody wants an opportunity to play against the Razorback. But you have an opportunity to play against the Razorbacks if you’re here at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.”
“Any time we can keep money in state, and keep turning those dollars over and over, it helps our state grow, it helps institutions grow, it helps our athletic departments grow.”
On when he began discussing the contract with Hunter Yurachek:
“Hunter Yurachek and I started talking about it earlier this year. We finally came together on some terms and worked everything out. I think it’s gonna be a great marriage.”
History of the University of Arkansas versus In-State Schools
The last time the Razorbacks played an in-state opponent in football, War Memorial Stadium was still four years away from opening. In 1944 Arkansas defeated Arkansas-Monticello, then known as Arkansas A&M, 41-0 in a Fayetteville game during head coach Glen Rose’s first season.
UAPB, meanwhile, decades ago was known as Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal School (AM&N). That reflected its land- grant mission and its original goal of training African-American teachers. During a 47 year period from 1927 to 1972, AM&N College operated as an independent institution. In 1972, though, it was merged into the University of Arkansas System.
Learn more about the history of University of Arkansas versus in-state schools including Hendrix, Oauchita Baptist and the College of the Ozarks here: