Hogs in the middle of several historic college football changes

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, August 2, 2020
Arkansas chancellor Dan Ferritor, SEC commissioner Roy Kramer and Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles listen during a University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meeting on Aug. 1, 1990, at which the Razorbacks were invited to join the SEC.
( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette File )
Arkansas chancellor Dan Ferritor, SEC commissioner Roy Kramer and Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles listen during a University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meeting on Aug. 1, 1990, at which the Razorbacks were invited to join the SEC.

— This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the University of Arkansas accepting an invitation to join the SEC.

On Aug. 1, 1990, it became official that Arkansas -- a member of the Southwest Conference since 1915 -- would be moving to the SEC after a vote from the UA board of trustees followed the recommendation of Athletic Director Frank Broyles.

"I expect a major upheaval," Broyles said of the college football landscape.

Arkansas was the first domino to fall in what since has become constant movement among major colleges.

South Carolina, an independent, in 1991 joined Arkansas in going to the SEC and making it a 12-member conference for football starting with the 1992 season.

Missouri and Texas A&M left the Big 12 -- a combination of the old Big Eight and SWC survivors -- to join the SEC in 2012.

Other notable moves include Nebraska from the Big 12 to the Big Ten; Colorado from the Big 12 to the Pac-12; Maryland from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten; West Virginia from the Big East to the Big 12; Miami, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Boston College from the Big East to the ACC; Louisville from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC; Utah from the Mountain West to the Pac-12; TCU from the Mountain West to the Big 12; and Rutgers from the Big East to the Big Ten.

Broyles was the Arkansas coach from 1958-76 and athletic director from 1973-2007. He also worked as ABC's top college football TV analyst from 1977-85, so he understood the sport from all perspectives.

"Coach Broyles was always a visionary," said Ken Hatfield, a standout defensive back and punt returner as a senior for the Razorbacks' 1964 team that finished 11-0 with Broyles as coach. "He always was looking to the future and had a lot of ideas.

"Going to the SEC was one of the really good ideas Coach Broyles had that certainly panned out. He knew people all over the country, and he really stayed on top of what was going on. He knew things were getting ready to change, and he was ready to do what was best for the Razorbacks."

The move of Arkansas to the SEC was a seismic event in the college football world, but it's one of many examples in which the Razorbacks have been involved in a major change.

"Arkansas always seems to be in the middle of things," Hatfield said. "The Razorbacks have been intertwined in a lot of college football history."

The past six decades each have featured Arkansas being a part of historical events.

Poll positions

Alabama finished the 1964 season 10-1 after losing to Texas in the Orange Bowl, but the Crimson Tide were The Associated Press national champions because the final AP poll was taken before the bowl games.

Arkansas, 11-0 after beating Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl, finished No. 2 in the AP poll. The Razorbacks were named national champions by the Football Writers Association of America, but that didn't carry the weight of the AP title.

"That was the first time ever that a group of Razorbacks all pulled for the Longhorns," Hatfield said of the Arkansas players cheering for Texas to beat Alabama.

After Arkansas finished ranked No. 2 in 1964 despite being the nation's only unbeaten team, the final AP poll in 1965 was taken after the bowl games for the first time.

Alabama again benefited.

The Crimson Tide finished 9-1-1, but moved from No. 4 to No. 1 after No. 1 Michigan State lost to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, No. 2 Arkansas lost to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, and No. 3 Nebraska lost to Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

There was such an uproar about Alabama moving ahead of three previously undefeated teams despite the Tide having a loss to Georgia in the opener and a tie with Tennessee in the fifth game that the AP poll returned to a pre-bowl final vote in 1966 and 1967.

In 1968, the final AP vote again was after the bowl. It has been that way ever since.

"There's no doubt what happened to Arkansas in the 1964 AP poll brought about change, but I've never worried about it," Hatfield said of sharing the national championship with Alabama. "When I coached at West Point, I had a national championship ring on, and so did another of our assistants, Jimmy Dill, who played at Alabama.

"I never looked at his ring, and I don't think he looked at mine too much, either. It did not bother me one iota, and I loved putting that ring on."

In 1969, Arkansas again was part of history when Broyles and Texas Coach Darrell Royal agreed to move their game from mid-October to Dec. 6 for a nationally-televised matchup to end the regular season.

ABC lobbied for the move because Beano Cook, the network's media director, believed Texas and Arkansas would be ranked No. 1 and No. 2.

Cook was right, and the No. 1 Longhorns' 15-14 victory over the No. 2 Razorbacks -- dubbed the "Big Shootout" by Royal -- remains one of the most memorable college games ever played.

Now it's common for TV networks to dictate when teams play each other.

Arkansas also became one of the first colleges to install an artificial turf field in place of grass in 1969 because Broyles was concerned what the footing would be like in December.

Lamenting Liberty

Two years later, Tennessee's 14-13 victory over Arkansas in the 1971 Liberty Bowl changed how officiating crews were assigned to bowl games. At the time, bowl games featured split crews with officials coming from the conferences of each team.

SEC official Preston Watts made two controversial calls in the Liberty Bowl that helped Tennessee rally for a victory over the Razorbacks.

"I thought about dropping some dynamite down Preston Watts' chimney," Harold Horton, an Arkansas defensive assistant coach from 1968-80, said in 2009 before the Razorbacks beat East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl. "What he did to us, I mean, it makes bad thoughts come across your mind, even on Christmas Day.

"I know you're not supposed to be talking about officials nowadays, but it's hard to forget what happened to us in that game."

Arkansas had taken an apparent 16-7 lead with 5:45 to play in the fourth quarter on Bill McClard's 48-yard field goal. But the field goal was nullified by a holding penalty Watts called on tight end Bobby Nichols.

"It's very rare that you get a holding call on a field goal protection," Broyles said after the game. "It's probably the only one I ever had in my coaching career."

Nichols said he was grabbed by a Tennessee player and pulled to the ground.

The Razorbacks still led 13-7 when Jon Richardson caught a screen pass from Joe Ferguson and was ruled to have fumbled as he was being tackled.

Arkansas guard Tom Reed came out of a pile with the ball and handed it to Watts, who awarded possession to Tennessee at the Razorbacks 37.

"I got the ball and cradled it in my chest," Reed said. "Three Tennessee players jumped on top of me, but I still had it. Finally, the official came up and put his hands on the ball, so I gave it to him, and he signaled Tennessee's ball.

" 'Are you kidding me?' I asked him. But he told me to get my hands off the football."

Tennessee scored the winning touchdown on Curt Watson's 17-yard run with 1:56 left as George Hunt kicked the extra point.

Arkansas offensive line coach Joe Gibbs, who went on to win three Super Bowls as Washington's coach, chased the officials off the field, but he couldn't catch them.

Ferguson set Liberty Bowl records with 18 completions in 28 attempts for 200 passing yards and was voted the game MVP. Arkansas cornerback Louis Campbell set a Liberty Bowl record with three interceptions and was voted defensive player of the game.

How does a team with MVPs on offense and defense lose the game?

"You really were more mad rather than depressed that you lost," Campbell, a former Arkansas assistant coach and administrator, said in 2009. "You just felt like you had it taken from you.

"As a coach, you'd probably say they were controversial calls. As a player, you'd say we got cheated. It depends on how politically correct you want to be."

Beginning the next year, neutral crews started working bowl games.

"From that time until today, no official has called a game where his conference team is playing, so that was the good that came out of that controversy," Broyles said in 2009. "But it was one year too late."

Big penalty

Arkansas was on the wrong end of another controversial call in 1982 when No. 2 SMU rallied for a 17-17 tie with the No. 9 Razorbacks at Texas Stadium.

The Razorbacks led 17-10 in the fourth quarter when Arkansas safety Nathan Jones was called for pass interference as he covered Jackie Wilson.

Replays showed Wilson running up Jones' back when he couldn't catch up to quarterback Lance McIlhenny's pass.

"It was offensive pass interference all the way," Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz said.

Wilson said he had to make it look like he was going for the ball.

"I thought, 'I've got to get an interference call out of it,' " he said.

Jones naturally agreed with Holtz.

"I thought it was [a penalty] on Wilson," Jones said. "Neither one of us could have caught it, but I would have caught it before he would."

The 40-yard penalty gave SMU possession at the Arkansas 17 and set up a game-tying touchdown for the Mustangs to clinch the Southwest Conference title and a Cotton Bowl bid.

Horton Nestra was the official who called interference on Jones. The name Horton Nestra, like Preston Watts, will live in infamy with older Arkansas fans.

In January 1984, the NCAA rules committee made pass interference a 15-yard penalty rather than a spot of the foul call.

"Personally, I think this is a better rule," BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said of the change. "I don't like any rule where a judgment gives you a 40- or 50-yard gain."

The 1990s featured Arkansas leading the way for conference realignment.

At the public meeting for the vote to move Arkansas to the SEC, Broyles said the decision was tied in part to declining attendance for many SWC teams because of the addition of professional sports in Texas with a combined seven NFL, NBA and MLB teams.

Broyles also accurately predicted the lucrative national TV packages that have reaped millions for SEC members.

"The big conference -- the super conference – we are talking about today, some people have said it is to get regional television," Broyles said. "I disagree. I think the big, major conferences are organizing themselves for national television."

Houston Nutt, the Arkansas coach from 1998-2007, became a Razorbacks assistant in the spring of 1990 a few months before the move to the SEC was announced.

"I remember Coach Broyles coming down the hallway and saying, 'Are y'all ready to go into the Southeastern Conference?' " Nutt said. "At the time I thought, 'This is unbelievable.' Because I grew up watching Arkansas play Texas and all the other Southwest Conference teams.

"Realizing Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee are all going to be coming in here, it took a while to wrap your mind around that."

Working overtimes

In the 2000s, the Razorbacks played the longest games ever in college football when they twice went seven overtimes to beat Ole Miss 58-56 in 2001 and Kentucky 71-63 in 2003.

Texas A&M beat LSU 74-72 in seven overtimes in 2018 to tie the record. The next spring, the NCAA rules oversight panel approved a change that after four overtimes teams will alternate two-point plays rather than begin possessions on their 25.

That means Arkansas will remain the lone team to play two seven-overtime games under the original rules.

"We're going to always be No. 1 in overtimes, because we're the only team to go the record seven overtimes twice, and we played all real overtimes where the ball was put on the 25," Nutt said. "Nobody is ever going to top what the Razorbacks did."

Arkansas became part of another major change the next decade when the College Football Playoff -- in which four teams are selected for national semifinals and a championship game -- was implemented for the 2014 season.

Jeff Long, who replaced Broyles as the Razorbacks' athletic director and remained in that position before being fired in November 2017, was on the College Football Playoff selection committee from 2014-17, and also served as chairman.

Hatfield, who coached the Razorbacks to a 55-17-1 record from 1984-89, became a selection committee member in 2018 and will serve through the 2020 season. So the Razorbacks will have a representative on the committee during its first seven years of existence.

"Jeff did a tremendous job as the committee chairman, because they weren't sure how it was all going to go when they started," Hatfield said. "Certainly they took their lumps in the beginning not being able to please everybody with all the conferences involved and some people feeling like they got left out.

"But I thought Jeff and the committee members with him did really well in analyzing everything. We've had some great playoff games and it's always been an exciting end to the college football season."

Hatfield said Long, who is now the athletic director at Kansas, recommended him for the selection committee.

"I appreciate Jeff speaking up for me," Hatfield said. "I've thoroughly enjoyed being on the committee. We're going to be ready again this year whatever transpires."

Hatfield, who coached at Air Force, Clemson and Rice as well as Arkansas, used to vote in the coaches' poll.

"As a coach, it was really hard to sit down and analyze all the teams every week," Hatfield said. "You just didn't quite have the time to go into detail on certain games.

"You did the best you could, but to see where it is now with the amount of information that's available to the selection committee, it's fantastic."

Hatfield said having 13 members on the committee ensures there will be diverse opinions expressed.

"When you have 13 people, you hear a lot of different views, and maybe some things you hadn't thought about before that turn out to be important to consider," he said. "Everybody puts so much work into it and gets a chance to voice their opinion, and then we hash everything out."

Hatfield said that more than 50 years after he played for a team that was cost a shot at winning a consensus national championship because of a poll, he never could have imagined being part of the process that ends with a champion being decided on the field.

"I didn't think that far ahead to see where we are now," Hatfield said. "I don't think anyone did at that time. But I'm really glad we have a playoff now. It's the best way to determine who wins the national championship."

Nobody knows what the future holds for college football, but don't be surprised if Arkansas is in the middle of whatever happens next.

Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas’ 58-56 victory over Ole Miss in 2001 was one of two times Arkansas won in seven overtimes. Rule changes after Texas A&M’s 74-72 seven-overtime victory against LSU in 2018 mean Arkansas will remain the only team to play two seven-overtime games under the original rules.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)
Photo by AP
SMU running back Eric Dickerson (right) pushes his way past Arkansas’ Nathan Jones (center) in a 1982 matchup that nished in a 17-17 tie. A 40-yard pass interference penalty against Jones set up the game-tying touchdown for the Mustangs. In 1984, the NCAA rules committee made pass interference a 15-yard penalty rather than a spot of the foul call. (AP file photo)
Arkansas quarterback Bill Montgomery (left) listens to assistant coach Merv Johnson as Coach Frank Broyles looks on during a 1969 game against Texas in a matchup of No. 1 and No. 2. The game, which the top-ranked Longhorns won 15-14, was moved from mid-October to Dec. 6 for a nationally-televised matchup to end the regular season. (AP file photo)


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