Arkansas summers are a monument to consistency: the heat is unbearable, the humidity is intolerable, and University of Arkansas-Little Rock toys with launching a football program. Summertime in Arkansas! But what usually serves as June content for heat-stroked sports writers has taken a turn for reality with a new feasibility study conducted by the big cheeses at UALR and supported by some powerful politicos.
Said Little Rock mayor Mark Stodola: “The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is a vital and critical educational component of our city, and I believe bringing football back would be yet another opportunity for our citizens, students, and alumni to rally behind our university.”
We have questions and (some) answers.
The Mayor said “bring football back” to UALR. WTF?
Yeah, the Trojans used to play pigskin as a pretty damn good junior college program way back in the 1940s. Known then as Little Rock Junior College, the Trojans defeated Coffeyville Junior College in the 1947 Coffee Bowl 31–7 . The next year, the Trojans lost to South Georgia in the 1948 Junior Sugar Bowl, 18–7. In ’49, LRJC won the junior national championship. The team disbanded after 1955.
Okay, so why get into the game now?
“I’ve heard from many other students, alumni, community members, and business leaders who have expressed their interest in a Division I football program in greater Little Rock,” stated Chancellor Andrew Rogerson in a press release. Yeah, there’s always some interest among alums and Little Rock residents, though most in the capital city seem to have more loyalty to the “School Out West.”
I suspect that the real answer is “relevance and money.” UALR, which is styling itself as “Little Rock” these days, has pushed its campus infrastructure, academic offerings and marketing in recent years. It craves to carve its own identity, touting itself as Little Rock’s School while not so subtly distancing itself from its ancient alliance with the University of Arkansas. In the South, football is how you gain the trust of the masses and the loyalty (and wallets) of the alums.
Who’s paying for this football program then?
Hey, that’s what a feasibility study is for, right? The usual solutions will likely be bandied, including a bump in tuition and a new student athletics fee. But remember,
UALR Little Rock is not without its benefactors. The university’s handsome basketball arena bears the name of one of the state’s richest men, Jack Stephens. Perhaps the Stephens family is willing to pitch-in for scholarships and shoulder pads?
Are city officials really supporting this as an “F-U” to Jeff Long and the Arkansas Razorbacks?
Now that the Arkansas Razorbacks have all but officially ditched Little Rock and War Memorial Stadium, the ancient edifice needs a new tenant. Why not a local one? The Trojans would fill a vacuum left by the Razorbacks, who made it clear that its partnership with the capital city is no longer appreciated. Nobody would gain more satisfaction from stealing some of UofA’s fanbase than jilted city officials who bent over backwards for UofA athletic director Jeff Long.
Is there a viable market for a Little Rock football team?
Who knows what the feasibility study will determine. But Arkansas is a state that loves football. The problem is that the University of Arkansas is not shy about using all its influence and power to squelch competing programs. It will publicly smirk at Little Rock’s efforts to field a football team, but privately, it will grimly pull every lever and string to destroy it.
But would the people of Little Rock resist? Maybe! When the Trojans field a decent basketball team, the city comes alive with Trojan flags and gear. There is loyalty. But is there enough to bring 20,000 souls to a football game? If UAB can do it, why not UALR?
Who’d coach the team?
Cart before the horse, I know, but Little Rock’s athletic director is the young and capable Chasse Conque, whose father is Clint Conque, who helmed the University of Central Arkansas Bears for 13 seasons before accepting a head coaching position at Stephen F. Austin. One call to dad could give the new Trojans football squad a seasoned head coach.
How would a Trojans football team effect Arkansas State?
Obviously, both schools would compete for the same pot of players. But that’s years in the future. What a new Trojans team would create is an instant in-state rivalry that would eventually be conducted on a level playing field. Fans would love it.
So are the Trojans serious?
Yeah, I think so. Football is the front door of a university, and Little Rock is ready to roll out the welcome mat. The university is posting an RFP to find those most capable of conducting the study, and they’ll pay for it from the athletic budget. Rarely does one pay for something you don’t want, right?