Arkansas has enjoyed a sports monopoly in the state of Arkansas since the football team adopted the “Razorbacks” moniker in 1910. The school’s following in the state stems from it being the only major sports program, college or professional. It has such a wide following in the state that the Hogs actually have two home stadiums three hours apart.
Arkansas State did not join the FBS until 2006. It did not have a winning season in the FBS until 2011, when they went 10-3. This year they are 7-3 and currently sit atop the Sun Belt conference. And on Saturday night, the Red Wolves did something very interesting.
They beat Louisiana-Monroe. They beat them by a score of 45-23. They held them to fewer rushing yards, passing yards and touchdowns than the Razorbacks defense did during Week 2. They had more rushing yards, passing yards and touchdowns than the Razorbacks offense did against the same opponent.
Arkansas can point to the injury of Tyler Wilson as the reason it did not beat Louisiana-Monroe, but it still had a highly regarded running back in Knile Davis who was held to 62 yards. An SEC running back should be able to run all over a Sun Belt defense.
Louisiana-Monroe can point to the injury of Kolton Browning as the reason it did not beat Arkansas State, but it still had a backup quarterback in Cody Wells who passed for 357 yards and two touchdowns.
No excuses for either team.
Arkansas could not beat Louisiana-Monroe, but Arkansas State did.
This calls into question the Razorbacks’ position as the premier college football program in the state of Arkansas. They have more history, yes. They have more fans, yes. They are a bigger school, program and team, yes. This has been a bad season and shouldn’t be used as an example, fine.
But this year, Arkansas State could be the superior team.
But we won’t know that. Arkansas refuses to play any team in state for fear of losing. It is afraid that the monopoly it has won’t hold up to the scrutiny of actual in-state competition year after year.
Auburn plays Alabama. South Carolina plays Clemson. Florida plays Florida State. UNC plays NC State and Duke. Imagine what those teams would be like without those rivalries.
The Razorbacks won’t play anyone in state—not even in basketball, even though Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Arkansas-Little Rock have made NCAA tournament appearances since the Razorbacks have.
Arkansas paid Louisiana-Monroe $950,000 to play in Little Rock. Oregon paid the same amount for Arkansas State to travel to Oregon.
How much money would the state of Arkansas, including both of these state educational institutions, have saved if the teams had played each other in a season opener at War Memorial Stadium? "The Capital Classic"? "The Little Rock Bowl"? "The Battle of Arkansas"?
Or the game could replace the LSU game at the end of the season.
They could have a trophy made—the Paul Eells Memorial Trophy.
Arkansas players and coaches have received a lot of criticism this year for "giving up." Maybe the reason the team doesn’t seem too fired up to take the field is because it’ll get a hero’s welcome and fan loyalty no matter how well it plays. How much taller would the program stand if every coach, player and fan knew that the Razorbacks were objectively the best team in Arkansas?
Arkansas State is only going to get bigger and better. If the Razorbacks want to be a national program, they need to be willing to play any team, anywhere, anytime.
If the Razorbacks want to be the premier program in the state of Arkansas, they should have to take the field against the Red Wolves and prove it.