Arkansas vs Arkansas State: Should we play?

NOTE: After a heated argument  (I don’t think we should play the game) on Twitter earlier this week, Bryan from Rational Politics wrote the article below discussing the arguments for and against playing a yearly game with Arkansas State. Rational Politics is a Blog/Forum Bryan created so “everyone could come in and throw their ideas on the table and have a healthy debate.” Make sure to follow Bryan on twitter @rationalpolitic, and visit RationalPolitics.Net for this article and much more. -Jacob

OK, I know this blog is called Rational Politics and we talk about politics, religion and philosophy almost exclusively but I since I own the place I decided to take a moment and discuss my other passion – Razorback Football. Don’t worry, we will return to politics after this post. Also my apologies for this post being long. I had a lot to say :)

Just like politics, college football is full of heated, partisan debates on a number of issues. When you explore a particular team, they typically have their own internal debates as well. Today, I want to discuss a few of the Razorback debates for a few moments. For anyone that has spent any time on either the blogs or message boards, you’re probably familiar with most of these and have probably argued passionately for one side or the other at some point. The two I want to discuss today are the issue of playing non-conference games against Arkansas State University and the other is famously known as the “Great Stadium Debate” or GSD to the fans. Now this post will focus mainly on the issue of playing ASU but will briefly touch upon the GSD.

The issue of Arkansas and ASU playing in an regular season non-conference game has been around for decades with former Athletic Director Frank Broyles being a proponent of not playing in-state teams. The concept is simple, Arkansas isn’t a big state and the University of Arkansas should be the only game in town. This policy has obviously drawn criticism and praise from throughout the Arkansas fanbase over the years. For the longest time, it probably even made sense to keep this policy in place. However, in 2011 and beyond, I believe this policy should be ignored. Arkansas plays three “easy” non-conference games per season with one competitive non-conference game as well. Currently, Arkansas has a series with Texas A&M in Dallas at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium which functions as the competitive non-conference game.

So why not play Arkansas State? Let’s go through some of the given reasons:

1. We don’t want to give them a chance to improve their recruiting against Arkansas since the State produces so few Division 1 recruits each year.

Pre Bobby Petrino, this made a lot of sense since Arkansas recruited a lot within the State of Arkansas. However, this is becoming irrelevant based on Petrino’s recruiting strategy at Arkansas. If you look at where Arkansas has been targeting recruits each season, not many of them reside in the State of Arkansas. If you look at recruiting inside of Arkansas since 2002 (Rivals only goes back to 2002), you can look at the trend of where Arkansas has recruited and signed players. (See Graph Below)

Since 2002, Arkansas has signed 269 players. In this period, the State of Arkansas leads the way with 33.09% of the total players signed. Texas follows with 23.42%. No other state has more than 10%. During this period, Arkansas signed players from 21 different states and one from Canada. Now if you only take the overall numbers, you will be deceived into thinking the overall numbers are reflective of Petrino’s current recruiting strategy. Lets look at these numbers in chucks.

From 2002 to 2007, former Head Coach Houston Nutt was in charge of recruiting.
His overall numbers look like this:
– 155 Recruits Signed From 16 States
– Arkansas: 56 (36.13%)
– Texas: 44 (28.39%)
– Georgia: 14 (9.03%)
– No Other State had over 5%

Now Head Coach Bobby Petrino has been in charge of recruiting since 2008. However, it is a bit of a misnomer to look at 2008 as his first year. While technically, he signed the class, he was hired December 11, 2007, only two months before National Signing Day in February. When you look at the make-up of the 2008 class compared to the rest of Petrino’s classes at Arkansas, 2008 was heavy tilted to kids from the State of Arkansas. Most of these kids had committed to Arkansas prior to Petrino being hired and he honored all those who had already been offered a scholarship.

So 2008 looks like this:
– 26 Recruits Signed From 7 States
– Arkansas: 15 (57.69%)
– Georgia: 3 (11.54%)
– Texas & Louisiana Tied: 2 (7.69%)

From 2009-2011, his recruiting has been like this:
– 88 Recruits Signed From 15 States & 1 From Canada
– Arkansas: 18 (20.45%)
– Texas: 17 (19.32%)
– Oklahoma: 10 (11.36%)
– California & Florida Tied: 7 (7.95%)
– Louisiana: 6 (6.82%)

Arkansas Recruits Home States Since 2002

So as you can see, Petrino has been moving away from Arkansas as a primary recruiting base so the idea that Arkansas State might infringe upon our recruiting really doesn’t hold up. Below is a Graph that lists the top 10-20 recruits (as rated by Rivals) from 2003 to 2011 and where they signed. As you see, Arkansas State isn’t keeping us from signing who we want within the State of Arkansas. In fact, we’ve allowed quite a few recruits to leave the state over the years and when you look at each individual recruit, Arkansas didn’t miss much from most of those on the list. So Arkansas should be worried about other SEC teams poaching recruits long before we should ever be worried about Arkansas State. (Note: The blocks in Orange represent BCS schools besides Arkansas and the Dark Red represents Arkansas State)

Top Arkansas Recruits & Where They Signed Since 2003

So is our recruiting likely to be hurt by Arkansas State? No it is highly unlikely that Arkansas State will ever hurt Arkansas in recruiting inside or outside the State of Arkansas.

2. Losing to Arkansas State could be bad for Arkansas both within the State and throughout the Nation

I’ve never been a fan of this argument. I mean good teams lose games to crappy opponents all the time and they don’t die as a program. I mean Arkansas lost to The Citadel a Football Championship Division school (Division 1-AA for all you old timers) in our first game as a SEC team in 1992. If that didn’t get us run out of college football, I don’t think any other loss will either. Arkansas State is a Sun Belt Conference school and should be treated like any other Sun Belt Conference school. We schedule them to give us breaks in our SEC schedule. Some people call them “rent-a-wins.” Call it whatever you desire but the fact is we’re 27-0 against current Sun Belt Conference schools. (See Graph Below)

Arkansas Record vs. Current Sun Belt Conference Members

As I stated at the beginning of this post, Arkansas since 2003 has tried to schedule one BCS school with the other two to three non-conference games being split between FCS (1-AA), Sun Belt or other weaker conferences. (See Graph below for all non-conference games since 1992)

Arkansas Non-Conference Games Since 1992

As you can see, Arkansas likes scheduling Sun Belt Conference schools. Financially and geographically, that makes a lot of sense and you see most BCS schools schedule their weaker opponents which are closer to their home. To date, Arkansas has played against six of the nine Sun Belt schools. Arkansas will likely continue scheduling Sun Belt schools for non-conference games in the future. So could Arkansas State actually win if they played Arkansas? Of course, anything can happen on the field. I mean who would have imagined The Citadel beating Arkansas or Appalachian State beating Michigan at the Big House or Jacksonville State beating Ole Miss or Louisiana Monroe beating Alabama? Of course Arkansas State might win. However, any team might beat us any game, any year. If we want to win National Championships, we don’t need to worry ourselves about a team “might beat us.” This philosophy also seems to cut against what Coach Petrino has been preaching since he got here. We will beat any team, any where or any day. That is what champions do.

Now, lets actually take a look at Arkansas State against current BCS schools (See Graph Below). They are a dismal 3-77-3 all time against current BCS schools. Their wins came against Ole Miss (1915), Cincinnati (1975) and Texas A&M (2008). I don’t see A&M’s program dying from that loss in 2008. In fact, A&M has been improving since Sherman’s first season and are ranking in most preseason Top 10s.

Arkansas State vs. Current BCS Schools All-Time

3. Playing Arkansas State would lose money for the University of Arkansas.

This is another argument that just doesn’t hold up. We pay Sun Belt schools to play us now. Arkansas State would actually have a shorter distance to come play us than all the rest of the teams.

4. The University of Arkansas would never play a game in Jonesboro.

I actually agree with this one. Arkansas is no more likely to play there than it is at Monroe, Troy, North Texas, etc. At least until the Sun Belt teams start forcing home/home series with BCS schools, the BCS school will always have the upper hand here.

5. The game will be boring, nobody will show up, why help them out, etc.

So playing Louisiana Monroe is exciting? North Texas? Arkansas typically has these games over by the 3rd Quarter and fans are heading out of the Stadium. Also Arkansas is not selling out most of the Sun Belt non-conference games in Fayetteville already but typically sell out the Little Rock ones. (See Attendance numbers here: Louisiana Monroe, North Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette, Troy, Florida International, Middle Tennessee St.)

So would we do any worse paying Arkansas State? I would think no. In fact, I think this could be made into a big game for the state (I told you I would get back to the GSD). We could let this be our non-conference game in Little Rock. Let the state government go crazy for the game and donate some of the funds to a state based charity was one example I’ve read. I think there are a lot of different ideas to make this game a money maker for the State as well as both Universities. It would be a much more interesting match-up than any of the other Sun Belt teams except for maybe Troy.

So should we play Arkansas State? I don’t see it hurting us like many believe it will. Will it help us? It will help us just like any other weak non-conference game will every year. There are no rational arguments for not playing them. Yes, I understand there are many emotional ones but they tend to be very irrational by their very definition. Will I lose any sleep if we never play them? Nope. I, like most fans, care most about Alabama, Auburn and LSU on the schedule. However, as a fanbase, we shouldn’t be afraid to play against Arkansas State. They should be treated no different than any other Sun Belt school.

Recruiting Data is from Rivals
Schedule and Results Data is from Hog Database and College Football Data Warehouse

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