Garth Brooks (If you were born after Y2K, he’s a famous country singer who was prominent in the 90’s) recently caused a stir in the College Football world by saying Arkansas should join the Big 12 in a conference expansion. Pundits immediately jumped on the idea of swine joining the equine and bovine of OU and UT. This makes a ton of sense, so naturally it won’t happen.
It's true that leaving the SEC would mean an initial hit to yearly conference checks. Arkansas would lose around $6 million a year in cash payouts. It's time the Razorback faithful saw that money for what it is though, the same type of money Arkansas pays out for early season cupcake wins.
For sanity's sake, let's start with all the ways this makes sense for Arkansas:
Arkansas is in the most brutal division in College Football, and Arkansan fans will admit to looking at a schedule featuring Iowa State and Kansas with a touch of envy. The Razorbacks would enter the Big 12 as immediate conference contenders, and the third largest revenue generator. Not to say that they’d be favorites to immediately win, but any reasonable person would swap out Alabama for Oklahoma- and on down that list.
Makes Geographic sense
Despite being seen by the rest of the country as quintessentially Southern, Arkansas’ campus in Fayetteville is actually much closer to the heartland than the deep South. OU, OSU, KU, and KSU are all under 5 hours away. This geographic reality becomes even clearer when looking at where the U of A is pulling its students from. 55% of Razorbacks hail from Arkansas, with almost the entire rest of the student body coming from Texas, Oklahoma, or Kansas respectively. Texans alone are 5,100 strong on Arkansas’ campus. All other southern states combined have 1,069 students who call Fayetteville home.
Arkansas has a long and proud high school football heritage. Unfortunately, with a statewide population less than half that of the Dallas metro, there’s just not as many top level recruits produced yearly. Of the TX, GA, CA recruiting Holy Trinity, Texas is the only locale that consistently sends top prospects to Northwest Arkansas. Adding three more conference games against Texan opponents would only solidify the Razorback brand in the Lone Star State.
“Oh Yeah, Basketball”
Once upon a time, when Garth Brooks was singing about low places, the Razorbacks were the most feared squad on the hardwood. Despite those fiery days of glory only living on as faint embers, Arkansas stubbornly refuses to let go. If Razorback Nation is still committed to basketball, it should seriously consider joining a far superior conference for it. Unlike the College Football Playoff, March Madness truly rewards teams with a harder schedule.
Not even considering possible sweeteners the Big 12 could throw in to woo Arkansas away from the SEC, a reasonable person looks at the ideas listed above and sees why this move would make sense.
Unfortunately, the SEC won’t be easy to shake. The historically dominant conference has ingratiated itself into its member schools identities in a truly unprecedented way. Despite being located in the most fiercely independent region in these United States, SEC fans are remarkably collectivist. We love our school first, and our conference a decently close second. Asking an SEC team to leave the SEC, is asking it to kill part of its identity.
Most Razorback fans would rather languish in the middle of a brutal conference, than sell their Southern Souls for success.
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