By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Former Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles stood up from his seat last Wednesday, got former Texas A&M football coach R.C. Slocum’s attention and welcomed he and the Aggies into the Southeastern Conference.
The brief moment during Slocum’s guest speaking appearance at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club was no official ceremony by any means. But it was an early look at a gesture being repeated around the SEC this week.
"I’ve said for the last 10 years I would crawl to Texas to get you all in the SEC," said Broyles, who was a central figure in conference realignment when he moved Arkansas out of the Southwest Conference in 1991. "We’re happy."
The conference waited four days after Slocum’s appearance in Northwest Arkansas to make it official, but added Texas A&M as its 13th member Sunday. A formal celebration on Texas A&M’s campus in College Station was held with SEC commissioner Mike Slive in attendance Monday night.
The timing was impeccable. The festivities certainly added some flavor to Saturday’s Southwest Classic between No. 18 Arkansas (3-1) and No. 14 Texas A&M (2-1) with the game signifying the last they’ll meet as nonconference opponents.
Slocum, who was 123-47-2 in 14 seasons as Aggies coach and is now a special assistant to Texas A&M’s president, said that’s a good thing. The two Southwest Classic games played between the programs, which agreed to a 10-year contract that pays each roughly $5 million each year, has renewed the rivalry between SWC foes who met annually from 1928-1991.
"I think we’ve always had great respect for Arkansas," Slocum said. "You can see the turnout of the fans on both sides. It’s been a great game the last couple of years and I think it will only get better."
Arkansas holds a 40-24-3 series lead over Texas A&M, which includes wins in the two Southwest Classic games.
Ken Hatfield, who was a 7-2 as a player and coach against Texas A&M, said the Razorbacks have enjoyed success in the series. But it doesn’t mean Arkansas has had an easy time.
"They weren’t noted for their skill or their great quarterback play, they were noted for their toughness first and foremost," Hatfield said. "That’s the way they played. It was going to be tough. You might win, but I guarantee you the next week you were going to be beat up hard."
The Razorbacks expect another battle Saturday, one reason it was hard to pull much about Texas A&M’s move from players and coaches Monday. Both teams are coming off disappointing losses and hope to get their seasons back on track.
So Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said the Texas A&M storyline shouldn’t affect his team this week. But, when looking at the bigger picture, he believes Texas A&M’s move is a good one.
"It’s good for us. It’s good for our recruiting," Petrino said. "There’s been a number of guys in the last three or four years that we didn’t get to come here and they grew up watching Big 12 football and maybe chose a different school because they were used to it so much. All of the publicity, exposure, everything that we get now with A&M coming in in the state of Texas, I think helps us a lot."
The conference switch does mean Arkansas and Texas A&M will have to figure out Southwest Classic logistics, assuming the teams will continue to meet on an annual basis.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said earlier this month his "knee-jerk reaction" would be to keep it in Arlington, making it a neutral site conference game much like Florida-Georgia. But Long added he hadn’t thought the process through completely and wouldn’t until Texas A&M’s move was official.
Petrino said he wasn’t considering it, looking ahead to Saturday’s game only. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman voiced no preference when asked, seeing arguments for both sides.
"I always like to play home games at Kyle Field," Sherman said. "But playing up in the Metroplex for both parties, I’m sure, is advantageous for both fan bases."
The decision will be made in time. For now, Slocum said Texas A&M football is preparing for life in the SEC.
The Aggies have dropped six straight to SEC teams, including the losses to Arkansas in 2009 and 2010. Texas A&M’s last win against an SEC opponent came in 1995, when it beat LSU 33-17.
"We have no allusions as Texas A&M going into the league," Slocum said. "We know it’s going to be tough. We understand that. But over the years in athletics if you’re a player and you’re a coach if you really get down to it and you’re geared the right way, you want to be where the best are."
It’s a move Arkansas made back in the early 1990s, when it ended long-standing ties with conference rivals like Texas A&M and Texas in search of greener pastures.
Twenty years later, Slocum said it’s clear the move paid off for Arkansas. He’s certain it will be beneficial for the Aggies, too, as they become the SEC’s 13th university.
"I admire coach Broyles for having the courage years ago," Slocum said. "That was a bold step that he took and Arkansas took to go in that direction. But time has proven, I think, that it was a very wise decision.
"We’re taking a bold step and following along behind you a few years. But we think it’s a good decision for us, too."