Thirty years ago, Arkansas said goodbye to the Southwest Conference, lighting the fuse of a powder keg that would explode less than five years later. As universities began focusing on using football’s television contracts in an arms race that still has no end in sight, the Razorbacks’ move to the Southeastern Conference adhered to the golden rule of college sports: It made cents, so it made sense.
Today, the SEC offers prestige. It offers security. The last time a team left the conference, Americans were still three years away from setting foot on the moon. (Rough call on that one, Tulane.) Most importantly, it offers more cash than anyone could have dreamed of when the Hogs made the move.
Still, since joining the SEC, Arkansas has few trophies and fewer rivalries in the cash cow sport of football.
The Razorbacks, who have finished with a winning conference record once in the past nine seasons, will get a taste of the past this fall after setting a Sept. 11 home date against former Southwest Conference nemesis Texas, a rivalry that’s the closest thing to one that burns 365 days a year around Razorback Country even though the two teams have met only once since 2008. But the Hogs would be better off getting more than a taste.
They ought to switch tables from the SEC to the Big 12, home of four former Southwest members, and find a seat for a full meal every year.
“I believe in tradition and we’re messing with tradition here,” then-Arkansas coach Jack Crowe said as the Razorbacks prepared to move to the SEC.
Arkansas can soothe its sorrows by counting its money from SEC membership. A move to the Big 12 would introduce risk and probably cost the university a few million dollars per year. Last year, the SEC distributed $45.5 million to member schools. The Big 12 handed out $37.7 million.