Parsing the game plan
Little Rock is wondering if maybe it could solve three problems with one enhanced risk of head injury for young adult males.
The problems are that the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has stagnant enrollment, the city at large is divided and crime-ridden, and War Memorial Stadium doesn’t have anything to do.
—————— Three public entities—UALR, the Little Rock city government and the state Parks and Tourism Department, which is laden with War Memorial—intend to ante up for a feasibility study on starting a big-time college football program at UALR.
There are potential UALR matriculants who would enroll at the urban university if only it had a football team, or so we’re led to believe.
The thinking is that it would help unite and turn Little Rock around if footballing Trojans hurled themselves full-speed and brain-first into similarly self-sacrificing counterparts before stadium assemblies of literally hundreds.
After all, the Memphis University Tigers have turned around Memphis; the Tulane Green Wave turned around New Orleans; the Jackson State Tigers have turned around Jackson, Miss., and, closer to home, the UAPB Golden Lions have turned around Pine Bluff.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola has embraced the concept, or at least the study. But, being a confirmed consensus-seeker, and facing vigorous opposition in the next election, Stodola hastens to preface that he loves the Razorbacks and always will.
Surely Little Rock is big enough and versatile enough to keep giving its heart to the Razorbacks and its deficit cash to a local startup stepchild.
A school like Hendrix can start football for much less expense, since it competes in a non-scholarship league. It can do so for a pressing reason and demonstrable results: It was losing male students to similarly situated small liberal arts colleges that played football. Apparently there are academically stellar young men who enjoyed football as small-town prepsters and want to continue risking concussions at college as well.
But UALR would compete in the Sun Belt, a mid-tier scholarship conference that is a lesser Baldwin brother to the SEC’s Alec. It costs as much, but reaps less reward.
The Sun Belt has affiliations with odd-sounding bowl games. It can get some of its contests shown on ESPN stations if the teams will agree to play in the middle of the week, as they always will, of course, needing TV money to lower their deficits.
Here’s hoping the feasibility study will answer these questions:
1. Where does UALR propose to get the $10 million to start the program? Might it come from donations from local businesses? Might that money get spent otherwise for lowerprofile purposes such as jobs for inner-city youth?
2. Who are these people who would pursue higher education at UALR only if UALR had a football team? What are their names? Where are they now? What fields of study do they intend to pursue? How does a football program make biology more attractive to them?
3. How does UALR propose to avoid an operating deficit considering that the amount of money it can divert for athletics from its state appropriation is legally capped and prospective new matriculants might balk at a student athletic fee higher than their tuition costs or their pickup note?
4. Where does UALR intend to get its players? The football programs of the public schools in Little Rock, once national-class, are generally in disarray. Other area colleges such as Arkansas State would seem well ahead in appealing to secondary regional football talent. Can Little Rock be saved by a losing college football team? The Razorbacks rely on Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Denmark. They typically take only four or five Arkansas players a year, and those tend to be children of former assistant coach Bobby Allen.
Another thing: What’s the basis for this stated notion that a UALR-ASU football game would amount to a big event filling War Memorial?
Let’s stipulate that ASU has a following and might lure 20,000 of its people to such a game.
Let’s add to that the UALR fan base consisting of the school administrative personnel and players’ mothers, coming to, oh, 200 people.
Then let’s throw in the folks throughout the Central Arkansas area caught up in the promotional frenzy, by which I mean another couple of dozen.
I’m at 20,224. Who is filling the other 35,000 seats?
I think I’ve got it. They’ll be there for the showing of the Razorback game on the scoreboard screen.