Good riddance to Hogs' policy against playing in-state schools

By: Rick Fires
Published: Sunday, September 2, 2018
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn walks toward the dugout during a College World Series game against Texas Tech on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn walks toward the dugout during a College World Series game against Texas Tech on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.

Dave Van Horn had just finished one of his first press conferences as the Arkansas baseball coach when he mentioned possible opponents for the Razorbacks.

Former Springdale Morning News reporter Bob Stephens and I listened as Van Horn talked about playing midweek games against in-state schools before heading south for weekend series in the SEC. It was obvious at that point Van Horn didn't know or had forgotten about Arkansas' policy against playing in-state schools.

Van Horn felt the sting of that policy in 2003 when the Razorbacks made a nearly 600-mile round trip to Wichita State for a midweek game in between long SEC road trips to Auburn and Alabama. Arkansas lost five consecutive during that stretch when fatigue surely was a factor.

So, I am not surprised Van Horn and his baseball team will wield the axe in 2019 that shatters Arkansas' long-standing policy against playing in-state schools. It was a rule as outdated as typewriters, full service gas stations and white guys with afros wearing leisure suits (yes, I was one of them).

"This is an opportunity for us to enhance our nonconference schedule while supporting other schools within the University of Arkansas system," Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek said in a statement after announcing the Razorbacks would host Arkansas Little Rock and Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Baum Stadium in 2019. "We have initiated with baseball and are exploring opportunities for future years in other sports."

How about a basketball game at Bud Walton Arena with Arkansas-Little Rock? I suggested as much two weeks ago on social media after it was revealed the Hogs had scheduled Texas-Arlington and Texas State, two teams that play in the same Sun Belt Conference as UALR and Arkansas State.

So, who would you rather pay to see during the Christmas rush on Dec. 22, Texas State or an Arkansas-Little Rock team coached by former Razorback Darrell Walker?

My comment was met with some disdain, including someone who added a picture of a man whacking a dead horse with a cane. People on are social media are creative, even when they're wrong.

I won't apologize for occasionally criticizing Arkansas' policy against engaging with in-state schools, and I've never accepted the lame excuses about not playing. Sure, there's probably a few examples where schools in the same state don't play each other, but there are plenty more where they do.

South Carolina and Clemson play each year, and the Gamecocks opened their football season on Saturday against Coastal Carolina, a Sun Belt Conference school with an enrollment barely over 10,000 students. Florida, which faces Florida State each year, recently agreed to a three-game series with South Florida that begins in 2022. LSU, which has won six national championships in baseball, routinely play in-state schools without any harm at all to its powerful program.

So, what's the big deal? It's not a big deal, and I am excited for a change that will benefit sports fans throughout the state.

"It's going to be great for the game of baseball in our state," Van Horn said. "This will help grow baseball. The fan interest is there, and it will be big."

How big?

Why not a weekend tournament at Baum Stadium where Arkansas Little-Rock, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Central Arkansas, Arkansas State, Oral Roberts, Missouri State and maybe even Arkansas-Fort Smith are invited?

Yurachek said there are no plans to include in-state schools that are not affiliated with the University of Arkansas. But I won't give up on the idea of Arkansas and Arkansas State playing at War Memorial Stadium in the years the Hogs don't face Missouri in Little Rock.

For now, I am thankful it took an outsider like Yurachek to come in and initiate change. I've long been a fan of the state of Arkansas moreso than any one team in Arkansas.

Sports on 09/02/2018

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