Here Comes Another In-State School

To be clear the late Frank Broyles did not dream up the University of Arkansas’ policy against playing other in-state universities in athletic events. It was passed along to him by John Barnhill, the man who hired Broyles. In the post WWII years Barnhill noticed a statewide following developing for the Razorbacks in football. Clyde Scott started it. Sports fans in the state were fascinated by the former US Naval Academy football player from Smackover who came back to Arkansas to finish his college career after marrying Leslie Hampton from Lake Village, Miss Arkansas of 1945.

Scott was a blazing fast running back who earned a silver medal in the 1948 London Olympic games. That was the year that War Memorial Stadium opened for play allowing fans outside of Arkansas a big time stadium to watch Razorback football. Barnhill reasoned that with a statewide fan base the Razorbacks should not risk creating in-state rivalries by playing other Arkansas schools.

In continuing the policy Broyles always said that the various in-state teams could root for the Hogs and in turn the fans of those schools would support the Razorbacks. It was nice theory but not based in reality, especially where Arkansas State was concerned.

Still Broyles would have been happy to hear current Arkansas-Pine Bluff head baseball coach Carlos James say the following: “Everybody knows what the pecking order is. Arkansas is the SEC school. UALR is the Sun Belt School. I’m the SWAC school. We’re all in different conferences and when we’re not playing against each other we root for each other.”

Broyles, however, would not likely have been happy to see UAPB come into Baum-Walker Stadium as the Diamond Hogs’ Tuesday night opponent. His successor, Jeff Long, had continued the long standing policy of not competing against other state of Arkansas athletic teams. That changed under current director of athletics Hunter Yurchek who last August agreed to allow the Razorback baseball team to add Arkansas-Little Rock and UABP to its 2019 schedule.

In addition to avoiding in-state rivalries Broyles often said that Arkansas athletes would find themselves in an an emotional mismatch if pitted against players from other Arkansas schools. To the Razorbacks it would be just another game. For their opponents it would be an historic opportunity to show up big brother and stake a claim to their own piece of Arkansas pride.

That’s certainly the way things worked out in the first meeting between Damond Hogs and an in-state opponent. On April 2 Arkansas-Little Rock entered Baum Walker Stadium with an 8-16 record. The Trojans walked away with a 17-7 win over a top 10 team from the SEC.

Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn explained the stunning upset this way: “We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win. We made mistake after mistake in the field. We booted a double play ball and they took advantage of it and swung the bats well.”

The truth is the Razorbacks looked like they were on auto pilot while the Trojans appeared to be on a mission. They totally embarassed the home team in front of its own fans. They also demonstrated another one of Broyles theories. Arkansas is not going to gain much of anything by playing another in-state school but that school can gain a lot.

“It was all underdog talk walking in here,” Arkansas-Little Rock head coach Chris Curry said afterward. “This sets us up confidence wise for our league which is most important in the way that we’ll have to get into the post season.”

Indeed. Including the win over Arkansas the Trojans have come out on top in eight of their last nine games.

UABP would not seem to pose much of a threat coming in. The Golden Lions are just 6-27 on the season but even a close game would likely do a lot for their confidence while allowing the school to compete on a big stage at a big time ballpark in its own state.

And the Razorbacks? Well the Hogs are 26-10 on the season so a win Tuesday night would move them to 27-10 which is better than being 26-11. That’s what they get out of it.

On second thought, freshman pitcher Connor Noland will get the start against the Golden Lions. He was knocked out in the first inning Saturday against Vanderbilt so maybe he’ll gain some confidence back. That’s a possible plus.

The new policy will be firmly in place after Tuesday night and even after that 17-7 thumping they took the Razorbacks bounced back with an SEC series win at Alabama. That is much more important in the scheme of things than wounded pride from a midweek loss to an in-state opponent.

It remains to be seen how this new policy will play out in the future. Will there be basketball games? Perhaps a football game against UABP? And what about in-state schools that are not part of the U of A system like Arkansas State and UCA? Will the new policy eventually extend to them?

In the meantime it would be nice to see the Diamond Hogs come out focused and ready to play Tuesday night.