Arkansas to continue playing in Little Rock through 2024
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) Hunter Yurachek has been asked repeatedly since his hiring in December what he planned to do about Arkansas playing football at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, nearly 200 miles from its campus in Fayetteville.
The new athletic director finally had an answer to the great stadium debate on Thursday, making his most significant decision yet with the Razorbacks in announcing an agreement that keeps Arkansas playing annually at War Memorial through 2024.
The six-year agreement between the school and the state's Department of Parks and Tourism calls for the Razorbacks to play Missouri in Little Rock during the 2019, 2021 and 2023 seasons, a game traditionally played on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Arkansas will also seek waivers from the Southeastern Conference to play its spring football game at War Memorial Stadium in 2020, 2022 and 2024. The Razorbacks played their spring game there last month because Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville is undergoing a renovation and addition that will be ready for the start of this season.
"While it might not be a perfect solution for our constituents individually, it is the right decision for Arkansas collectively," Yurachek said.
Arkansas has played on a part-time basis in War Memorial Stadium since 1948. A presence in central Arkansas was considered crucial to former athletic director Frank Broyles' vision of the Razorbacks becoming the dominant athletic program in the state, a plan that's held to form.
The number of games in Little Rock, however, has dwindled since the turn of the century, thanks to a 19,000-seat expansion of Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville in 2001.
That expansion fueled discussion about whether Arkansas should drop Little Rock altogether. Critics note the school pays the War Memorial Stadium commission $75,000 per game to play there while the stadium also collects concessions and parking fees - all lost revenue when the Razorbacks didn't play in Fayetteville.
The debate had increased recently, both because of the $160 million expansion of Razorback Stadium and because Arkansas' contract with War Memorial Stadium was set to expire following a game in Little Rock against Mississippi this upcoming season.
"If this were simply a dollars-and-cents decision, it would be an easy one for a director of athletics to make," Yurachek said. "And while providing the necessary financial support for our student-athletes is and always will be essential to our success, when it comes to the Razorbacks in this state, the investment is much deeper than a simple spreadsheet."
The agreement comes with conditions in the form of improvements and enhancements to the 70-year-old stadium. Those include replacing the worn artificial turf along with updating the stadium's speakers and out-of-date broadcast and wireless infrastructure.
The stadium debate was thought to have played a significant role in the firing of former athletic Jeff Long last year. Long had echoed former coach Bret Bielema's thoughts about Little Rock games being more difficult in terms of travel; he had the team fly back to Fayetteville after games rather than traveling by bus.
Also, the Razorbacks are unable to host recruits in War Memorial Stadium because the game is off campus and several former players have spoken out in recent years about their dislike of games in Little Rock.
Still, tradition and ties to the rest of the state won out for now, with Arkansas remaining the only SEC member to play home games away from its campus.
"It is something unique in Arkansas, and I have come to fully embrace that and fully understand that," said Kane Webb, executive director of the parks and tourism department.
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Updated May 17, 2018