By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long showed his support for football coach Bobby Petrino last month, unveiling plans to build an 80,000-square foot operations center that could be completed in two years.
Now that Arkansas’ regular season has ended, will Long and the Razorbacks show even more support for Petrino in the form of a new or extended contract?
Arkansas and Petrino appear to be considering an amendment to the coach’s current seven-year contract, which runs through the 2014 season and pays $2.85 million annually. Shawn Arnell, a radio show host based in Little Rock, reported in a blog post Tuesday the two sides appear to be working on a seven-year extension.
Arkansas officials would not confirm or deny any part of the report when asked Tuesday. The school simply issued a release saying Petrino was in the third year of a "long-term agreement" that runs through the 2014 season.
"We are proud of the tremendous job Coach Petrino has done at the University of Arkansas," Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said. "Coach Petrino is focused on preparing for our upcoming bowl game, recruiting and building on the ongoing success of the program. We are excited about the achievements and direction of Razorback Football and look forward to continued success in the years to come with Coach Petrino leading our program."
It’s clear both parties are interested in working out an agreement, though. And it would be no surprise.
The Razorbacks finished the regular season 10-2 and are ranked No. 7 in the latest BCS standings. An Auburn win in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game also would lock up an Arkansas berth in the Sugar Bowl, which would be the program’s first appearance in a BCS game.
Petrino has stated several times his fondness for Northwest Arkansas. He also has proven he can lead the Razorbacks to wins, improving from 5-7 in 2008 to 8-5 last season and now 10-2 with a bowl game remaining.
Bowl List Trimmed?
Arkansas’ goal is the Sugar Bowl, something that will be achieved with an Auburn win against South Carolina in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game. But what happens if the Gamecocks win, knocking Arkansas out of a BCS bowl berth?
One option — the Cotton Bowl — has likely been removed from consideration after Texas A&M was selected as its Big 12 representative Tuesday. Arkansas-Texas A&M would be a rematch of the Oct. 9 game in Dallas, which isn’t exactly an attractive sell for the bowl.
Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker said Arkansas isn’t out of its "bucket" of options Tuesday. But he did admit the Texas A&M selection has "changed the dynamic."
"You would never say never," Baker said. "If somehow Arkansas ended up not going to the Sugar Bowl, we would certainly continue to consider them. But the fact we’ve invited A&M would be a factor in whether we would invite Arkansas. And quite frankly it might be a factor in whether Arkansas would want to come back here."
The most likely destination for the Razorbacks if Auburn loses is the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. The bowl has the top pick among SEC bowl tie-ins after BCS teams from the conference have been selected and typically takes the highest-ranked team available.
Arkansas is ranked higher than LSU and Alabama, two others on the bowl’s radar. LSU played in the game last year. Alabama hasn’t played in Orlando since 1995.