Pars­ing the game plan

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@ arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

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.

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