The Southwest Classic: A Rivalry Regurgitated

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The Southwest Classic:  A Rivalry Regurgitated

Hey Norm!  If you were a "rivalry game” between two teams who hadn’t played in 18 years, would you incessantly promote yourself?

I know I would.

I’d smother myself in TV rights and $300 tickets.  A sparkling new stadium and a catchy name like “Southwest Classic”.

I’d taste soooooooo good.

Arkansas meets Texas A&M this Saturday at Cowboys Stadium, affectionately known as JerryWorld.  It is the first of ten consecutive meetings between the two schools.  A clash of the two best conferences in the nation, the SEC and the Big XII, and a rebirth of a great rivalry from the long-dead Southwest Conference. 

I am 27 years old.  I was 10 years old when Arkansas played its first SEC conference game.  I have watched the Razorbacks play every SEC team.  I have been to 5 of 12 SEC stadiums.  I have been to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. 

I can speak fluently in SEC.  Yea, Alabama.  Geaux Tigers.  War Damn Eagle.  I know the significance of 18 miles per hour in Oxford, Mississippi.  Of Mr. Two Bits.  Of Smokey and Uga.  I.  Love.  SEC.  Football.

On the other hand, I do not and cannot give a crap about Texas A&M.  I’ve tried, and I just can’t.

I have never watched Arkansas play Texas A&M in football.  Never been to College Station.  I know no more about the Texas A&M Aggies than I do the Oregon Ducks or the Minnesota Gophers or the West Virginia Mountaineers.

I understand that the Aggies have a lot of traditions they hold dear.  A dog.  A fire.  A unique band.  A highly organized student section.  Too bad it’s all so dreadfully boring.  A&M is a football school, and I can name as many former Aggie basketball players as I can former Aggie football players:  one. 

Don’t get me wrong;  I think this is a great game for the Razorbacks.  It’s an out-of-conference game against an opponent from the conference that is closest to the SEC in football.  It should be nationally televised each year, and, by all accounts, the facility it is to be played in is far and away the most impressive in the country, if not the world. 

Notice that none of these reasons have anything to do with rekindling old flames from conferences past.  And we haven’t even gotten to the two main reasons Jeff Long lined up this game for the Razorbacks.  The same two reasons any businessman makes any decision:  Money and power.

Shortly after the renewal of the series was announced in March of 2008, reports of $5 Million payouts to each team began to hit blogs and message boards.  Even in the financially dominant SEC, that is serious money for a regular season football game.  It is nearly 10% of the Razorbacks’ entire Athletic Budget.  One game!  Not even counting television! 

To lock in a deal like that for an entire decade is a tremendous boon to the University of Arkansas.  Made possible by the the benevolence of alumnus Jerry Jones, the Southwest Classic is without a doubt a sweetheart deal that the other 11 schools of the SEC are green with envy over.  At least they get their fair share of the television revenue.

Additionally, this game carries with it the opportunity to bore out further a recruiting pipeline that Arkansas has been the beneficiary of for decades. 

When it was a member of the Southwest Conference, Arkansas was dependent upon getting football players from the state of Texas.  Good and great players from within Arkansas were usually sewn up as Razorbacks before their recruitment ever started, and still the Hogs depended mightily on the Lone Star State to provide enough quality players to put a winning product on the field.

As the Razorbacks have settled into the SEC, the dependence on  Texas has waned as pipelines into regions across the southeast started to emerge.  Louisiana.  Georgia.  Florida.  And though the talent in Texas was ever-present, the exposure for the Razorbacks was no longer there.  And when you combine a decrease in exposure with a reduction in allocated resources, a decline in the number of Texas-bred Razorbacks is the logical outcome.  Yes, we still get a great many players from Texas, but not like we used to.

This series presents a chance for the Razorbacks to reacquaint Texans with the Razorback program.  However, instead of being dependent upon talent from Texas as it was in the days of the Southwest Conference, the Razorbacks can use their pipeline into Texas as an advantage that the rest of their conference does not have.

The sting of recruiting and missing on a blue-chip recruit from Jackson, Mississippi or Jackson, Tennessee is two-fisted.  Not only have you wasted resources on recruiting that player, but you will likely have to compete against him yearly.  Miss out on a blue chipper from Lake Jackson, Texas, and he’s most likely a Longhorn, which is a dreadful fate, but better than him being a Rebel or Tiger or Volunteer.

Arkansas has before it a unique opportunity to turn its perennial negative into a positive.  The knock on Arkansas has always been that it is out of place.  The Razorbacks never fit in competing against eight schools from Texas in the SWC, and they don’t fit in with the East-of-the-Mississippi mentality of the SEC, either.  Yet they competed in the SWC and compete in the SEC with respectable success.  If Arkansas can use their newest inroad into Texas to gain some recruiting momentum there without losing steam in the southeast, it might be just what the Hogs need to jump that last hurdle keeping them from being an elite team in the conference.

See?  Money and power.  That’s why this game is so great for the Razorbacks. 

These aren’t new ideas.  People identified these positives immediately after the announcement of the series.  But instead of saying that we are playing this game for the money and for the recruits, we prattle on about a rivalry renewed.  Old-timers tell war stories of games from the 60s and 70s, when both programs were in their prime.  We talk about dogs, and fires, and bands.

That’s all well and good, and I am happy for everybody who is so excited about this game.  Any reason for excitement over the Razorbacks is a good thing as far as I am concerned.  I just can’t muster up the additional excitement for this week, however.  I could do without all the ballyhoo.  I just want to see my Razorbacks go into Dallas and get the victory, the money, and the recruiting power. 

And then I want to relish getting to play Auburn.  Followed by Florida.  Followed by Ole Miss.  War Damn Eagle.  Mr. Two Bits.  Hotty Toddy.

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