By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas fans, especially those in Central Arkansas, had grown accustomed to watching the Razorbacks and LSU play in War Memorial Stadium to end the regular season every other year.
But the location is changing for 2012.
Arkansas released its finalized scheduled on Friday morning, confirming it will play LSU in Fayetteville to end the regular season. The move signals the Tigers’ first trip to play in Razorback Stadium since 1992 and the end of the Razorbacks’ Thanksgiving-weekend appearance in War Memorial Stadium.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long believes moving the game will benefit the program in a number of ways. The most important of which, he said, was making sure Arkansas didn’t have to go on the road to play its final three games of the regular season at South Carolina (Nov. 10), at Mississippi State (Nov. 17) and then in Little Rock.
"I want fans to understand is a couple of things," Long said. "One is, we truly do look at the schedule each year and decide which two games are going to Little Rock. This year, we looked at it with (Arkansas) coach (Bobby) Petrino and the way the schedule laid out, it really makes a lot of sense to play the LSU game in Fayetteville."
Those aren’t the only reasons listed by Long.
He also said the chance to get recruits on campus for a late-season marquee game is important for the program. Long also said playing the game in Fayetteville will allow roughly 20,000 more fans to attend.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, in a statement, echoed Long’s comments that moving the game for the 2012 season is important for the Hogs.
"I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere our fans have created and their willingness to support what is necessary to give our team the best opportunity to succeed," Petrino said. "Due to our November schedule this year, it is to our advantage to play LSU on campus."
The Razorbacks still will play two games in Little Rock in 2012 as part of the contract with the War Memorial Stadium Commission.
Louisiana-Monroe will be the nonconference opponent Sept. 8. Ole Miss, which hasn’t played in Little Rock since 1992, replaces LSU as the Southeastern Conference foe in War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 27.
Arkansas has played nine different SEC opponents in Little Rock since joining the SEC in 1992. Long said Friday the program evaluates which games will be played in the stadium before every season.
He also stressed that moving LSU to Fayetteville for 2012 does not mean the game has found a new permanent location.
"This does not mean we’re always going to play LSU in Fayetteville," Long said. "We looked at the schedule and this year it makes sense.
"In future years it may make sense for LSU to be in Little Rock again. It may make sense for LSU to be in Fayetteville again. People shouldn’t read any more into it than that."
The location of the Arkansas-LSU game wasn’t the only news regarding the schedule when it was released Friday. In addition:
— Long also said it’s very likely the location of the Arkansas-Texas A&M series — which is listed as "to be determined" by the Razorbacks — will be on campus for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Razorbacks have voiced support for keeping it in Cowboys Stadium as a neutral site conference game, but Long said it’s not likely. He is hoping the series will return to Arlington in the future, though.
"I think there’s a strong possibility we take a short break from Dallas," Long said. "But again, from my standpoint, I’d like to start back up in Cowboys Stadium. That’s probably where we’re headed."
— Arkansas and Rutgers reached an agreement to play a home-and-home series in 2012 and 2013, completing the Razorbacks’ long process in locking up its fourth and final nonconference opponent. The schools will play in Razorback Stadium on Sept. 22 next season, while Arkansas will travel to Piscataway, N.J. to play on Sept. 21, 2013.
"It was really important for us to get a BCS nonconference game," said Long, who previously said he had spoken with more than 30 programs about a nonconference game for 2012. "Rutgers does that for us out of the Big East. It’s kind of interesting and exciting."
Arkansas’ contract with the War Memorial Stadium runs through the 2016 season. The program will be in talks with the commission regarding Arkansas’ future there, but Long said those negotiations won’t take place until much closer to the end of the contract.
Long said he hadn’t heard much feedback from supporters as of Friday afternoon, but expected some disappointment with the LSU game moving out of Little Rock. He said the Razorbacks, despite moving the LSU game, understand how vital Central Arkansas is to the program.
"One thing our fans should see is we’re a much stronger program when we’re unified," Long said. "We’ve got fans from all over the state cheering and rooting for the Razorbacks. I hope they continue to do so. Without their support we cannot be successful in this conference.
"So Central Arkansas and the rest of the state is very important."