Looking at the big picture, University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque got it right.
"It’s a win-win situation before a ball is kicked off," Conque has said on several occasions.
Arkansas State and the University of Central Arkansas, their fans and the communities of Jonesboro and Conway will get a little hype and some moments of a flavor-filled rivalry Saturday in a matchup that is seldom seen in Arkansas — NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision schools playing a lower division NCAA school or each other in football.
It hasn’t happened since the Bears and the then Indians now Red Wolves played each other in a dandy of a game in 1997,
It’s happening Saturday because an opening in the schedules of both schools gave UCA a window of opportunity to do some shifting after upheaval on the college landscape. A major catalyst was Oklahoma State having to cancel a game with UCA scheduled for Saturday because of Colorado and Nebraska leaving the Big 12 and the conference going to a round-robin schedule. Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director, and his counterpart, Dean Lee at ASU, got together and the waters of the normally great divide in this state parted this one time.
ASU has its own schedule philosophy, part of it "playing up" to gain money for its program. It doesn’t play Football Championship Subdivision teams every year.
UCA, like all FCS teams, has to play "up" in at least one "money game" a year.
While there is always an open invitation for ASU to work its way to a spot on the schedule, UCA knows realistically ASU is only available when the stars are right and Teague has his eye on other horizons.
What UCA wants is to play a team each from a major conference that is in an adjacent state or within reasonable travel logistics, preferably a short drive or bus rides for its fans. On the future FCS menu are games against Ole Miss (2012), Colorado (2013), Texas Tech (2014) and Oklahoma State (2015).
Teague said he’s in contact with University of Missouri officials for a future game, but the college landscape is shifting too much and thinking about 2016 is premature right now. But he believes the two schools will eventually get together.
For now, UCA fans and ASU fans, who have been ribbing each other on message boards for awhile, can enjoy the moment of in-state competition.
Some of the luster of the game itself has been dulled by Nathan Dick, UCA’s starting quarterback, will not play because of a concussion sustained against Sam Houston State. Already the underdogs, the Bears will fall down several notches on the upset-possibility scale.
It’s also road game No. 3 of the most brutal September schedule a UCA team as ever played — consecutive road games against Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State (an early Southland Conference opener) and Arkansas State. On the first playing date in October, two-time defending Southland Conference champion Stephen F. Austin comes to Conway for a long-awaited Saturday game at home.
Even though the UCA quarterback was taken out by a personal-foul, late hit, the possibility of major injury by a natural football collision in the face of that schedule was fairly high. While the Bears have taken a major hit, Conque and his staff have a tradition of figuring out ways to be very competitive with the cards they are dealt.
But what happens on the field is not the important thing:
• There should be a capacity crowd and electric atmosphere.
• Fans across the state with intertwining connections to both schools — such as Conway banking executive, UCA supporter and ASU graduate Johnny Allison — have a rare tug-of war situations with their hearts.
• For months, fans of both institutions have been taunting each other on various social media.
• The schools will be a part of one the most multi-faceted, multi-media and exciting days in Arkansas football history. That afternoon, fans across the state, whether tailgating at Jonesboro or in dens and living rooms of family and friends, can watch the much-anticipated matchup between the Razorbacks and Alabama on national TV. That night, they can watch in person or on statewide TV the long-awaited rematch between the Bears and the Red Wolves.
• For a football Saturday in September in Arkansas, it’s a pretty darn appetizing menu.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)