Arkansas to the Big 12? Hogwash!
Arkansas joining Big 12 has been topic of conversation ever since Big 12 formed
School officials have said they're happy in SEC, but expansion set rumors swirling
Ultimately, there's no reason to leave security of SEC for instability of new Big 12
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Like so many others, Jeff Long is adapting slowly to this social media game. He occasionally tweets stuff like "Hog fans need to take a nap so they can stay up late to Call Hogs after the win tonight!!" and "Hard to beat a chocolate shake from Sonic on Father's Day!!!!!" But he'd never, uh, retweeted until last week.
"I had to learn how to do it," the Arkansas athletic director said, chuckling.
The retweet from @jefflongUA was to reiterate: No, the Razorbacks are not going to the Big 12.
But if the past is an indication, Long should get familiar with the RT function, because the idea isn't going away. Arkansas to the Big 12 has been in conversation for years, an idle topic for the water cooler ever since the Big 12 was formed, which wasn't too long after Arkansas jumped from the old Southwest Conference to the SEC. Someone in Austin or Oklahoma City or Lubbock or Little Rock says the Razorbacks would be a great fit in the Big 12 and everyone nods their heads, while the Razorbacks continue happily on in the SEC.
The rumor grew new legs last week in the wake of the Big 12's near implosion. With Nebraska and Colorado leaving, there was suddenly more impetus for the league to try to lure Arkansas. Heck, a prominent Arkansas booster/former player/NFL owner with a really nice stadium wanted it to happen. At least, that was the report. Jerry Jones denied saying he wanted the Big 12 to add Arkansas and Notre Dame (hey, when it's a rumor, why not a really outlandish one?), but it was more than enough to get the talk shows buzzing and message boards churning.
Given what almost went down -- the Pac-16 nearly came to be, and an even more radical remaking of the college sports landscape nearly became a reality -- is Arkansas jumping leagues that farfetched?
All of the above, eventually, set Long to tweeting. And retweeting. Here's the statement he wanted to get out:
"In recent weeks and months there has been much national dialogue regarding conference affiliation in intercollegiate athletics. In the course of that dialogue some have suggested that the University of Arkansas was an institution that may be pursued by other conferences. From the beginning, we have been very clear that the University of Arkansas is a proud member of the Southeastern Conference and has no interest in joining another conference. Chancellor Gearhart has been unwavering in his support of our institution's continued membership in the SEC. Recent events have not in any way altered our commitment or desire to remain a member of what we believe is the strongest conference in the nation."
First impression: Long needs to work harder to stay within the 140-character limit (his tweet simply linked to the statement). Also, he could have been a little clearer. The paragraph is standard gobbledygook, which is why the parsing immediately began. Read "proud member of the Southeastern Conference," for example, and it's natural to immediately think of Missouri, which instructed its officials recently to say the exact same thing about the Big 12, even though everyone knew the Tigers lusted after the Big Ten.
We shouldn't parse, though. We should pare. Long also wrote that Arkansas had "no interest" in joining the Big 12.
My take? It depends on who's talking. Clearly, there's a segment of Arkansas supporters -- including many in the old guard, some of them very influential -- who wouldn't mind seeing the Hogs return to some pumped-up version of the old SWC. And it's easy to find good reasons why Arkansas would fit in the Big 12.
Geography. Recruiting. Success. And maybe finally, finances.
Fayetteville is the farthest outpost in the SEC, 400 miles from the Razorbacks' nearest league neighbor (Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss.). Arkansas has no natural rival in the SEC, and hasn't developed one. Leaving the SWC cost the Hogs their presence in the nation's most fertile recruiting ground. They've scheduled nonconference series over the years with Texas, Texas A&M and others, but their recruiting has never recovered.
That's been reflected in their SEC record: 66-79-2. The Hogs have reached the SEC championship game three times, but never won it. They haven't played in a BCS bowl. And considering the conference's overall strength, it's not getting any easier to get to one.
That's why some have always looked longingly at the Big 12. It was partly nostalgic, sure. But they also saw Texas, and Oklahoma, and an opportunity for Arkansas to jump in right behind the Longhorns and Sooners in the pecking order.
Over the years, the argument always ended when someone brought up money. The Razorbacks might fit better in the Big 12. They might benefit greatly in recruiting from playing in Texas again. But the payday was so much better in the SEC -- earlier this month, for instance, Arkansas received $17.3 million from the league's equal split of revenue, while the Big 12's unequal distribution ranged from $7.1-10.2 million -- even the most hopeful had to admit it was never going to happen.
But take note of the numbers being tossed around by Big 12 officials as they convinced Texas and the other schools not to leave. Though no one's certain if those are real or not, it's possible the league could offer the Hogs something similar to their annual haul from the SEC. And if so?
Ten years ago -- maybe even 10 weeks ago -- the Hogs might have been sorely tempted. Not now.
"We're in the strongest conference," Long said, referring to the SEC. "This is the conference people want to join, not the one people want to leave."
If that's a shot at the Big 12 -- and Long certainly wouldn't admit it -- it's also dead-on accurate. And here's what should (but probably won't) kill the talk of Arkansas heading west:
Does anyone really think the Big 12, having somehow avoided certain death, is suddenly healthy? You could argue that adding Arkansas and some other school -- you pick the likely candidate; it's not the focus of this column -- would strengthen and solidify the league's standing. But it's still a hive of dysfunction.
Tensions remain, and if some schools couldn't stomach Texas' sway before, how do you think they like the Longhorns' standing now? The Razorbacks have been there, done that -- it's in part why they're someplace else. The Pac-10 failed to become the Pac-16, but the idea of super-conferences hasn't gone away. And Texas and Oklahoma remain plums waiting to be (willing to be?) plucked the next time expansion erupts.
Tell me again why the Hogs would leave the security of the SEC for the instability of the Big 12. But the rumor isn't going away. It never does. It will head off into hibernation for a while, but it will return next spring, or the next. Long needs to become familiar with retweeting.
Or he could try saying it in fewer characters: Arkansas joins the Big 12 when pigs fly.
George Schroeder covers college football for the Eugene Register Guard and is the former president of the FWAA. Follow him on Twitter.
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