LITTLE ROCK — The War Memorial Stadium Commission agreed Tuesday to turn back a Razorback football game to the University of Arkansas each of the next three years as part of an agreement to extend the current contract with the UA through 2018.
Instead of having two Razorback games in Little Rock each of the next three years, the stadium will be the site of one Arkansas game per year for each of the next five years. At least two of those will be against SEC opponents, including an Oct. 18 game against Georgia next season.
Commission chairman Kevin Crass, who negotiated the agreement with Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long, explained that the UA will pay the stadium $400,000 per year each of the next three years. The UA also will pay stadium rental of $75,000 for the one game played in Little Rock in each of those years.
In 2017 and 2018, the university will not be charged rent for the one game in Little Rock.
The current contract, which was to expire in 2016, called for two games in Little Rock each year, including one against an SEC opponent. In effect, instead of having six games in Little Rock during the next three years, there will be five games during the next five years.
Crass said later at a news conference that he could tell the UA “had a need” by looking at the 2014 schedule and that he knew the commission “had a desire” to have games beyond 2016 so he asked Long if he would be “open to a creative solution.” Crass said the men went back and forth on a number of issues and that the agreement was mutually beneficial.
At the same news conference, Long said he didn’t consider his talks with Crass to be negotiation, but conversation. He pointed out that playing two games in Little Rock next year would mean four or five weeks between games in Fayetteville and thanked the commission for repeatedly agreeing to give him an extension on making a decision.
Arkansas opens the 2014 season at Auburn and Long pointed out that an SEC game during the first three weeks of each season will be the norm. He also said he anticipates other changes in the SEC schedule in 2016, adding that is no secret the league is considering expanding to nine conference games per year. The new deal with War Memorial Stadium provides the flexibility that will be needed to deal with upcoming schedules and on-campus events that coincide with football, he said.
Asked about the opponents in Little Rock beyond 2014, Long said the decision would be made annually.
He also said the athletic department will net $900,000 to $1 million more by moving a game from Little Rock to Fayetteville each of the next three years, but that money “was not the focus of the discussion” with Crass.
Crass said the $400,000 per year from the UA, plus the $75,000 rental fee, means the stadium will break even on income from 2014-2016. The commission will look for other revenue streams to make up the difference after 2016. He also said there had been no specific discussions about Razorback games beyond 2018.
Debated in public by fans and media for months, the immediate future of Razorback games in Little Rock was decided by unanimous vote in a meeting that lasted less than 30 minutes. Four of the commission members were present in the War Memorial pressbox and the four others voted via teleconference.
Arkansas’ players were asked about the decision after they completed their final full pads practice of the year Tuesday. Defensive end Chris Smith said he felt sorry for the fans in Central Arkansas because of the changes for 2014.
“I like playing in Little Rock,” Smith said. “It’s actually louder than Fayetteville. Even though the stadium is smaller, the fans are right on top of you. It’s just crazy. I feel like the fans in Little Rock are more crazy, too, with all that tailgating.
“I’m going to miss playing there. I feel sorry for the people there. I wish they had more than one chance to see the Razorbacks play there next year.”