FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long addressed a variety of topics Wednesday to media before addressing the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club luncheon.
Among topics asked at both sessions was Arkansas trying to fill the slot on the 2018 football schedule that Michigan vacated to play Notre Dame. Michigan, cancelling the 2017-2018 home and home with a contract buyout, put Coastal Carolina on Arkansas’ 2017 schedule rather than a Power Five conference opponent such as the Big Ten’s Michigan.
"How is it going? I would say not very well," Long said. "Because there aren’t Power 5 opponents with availability. So we are trying to convince people either buy out a contract or move a game to accommodate us, or we pay much more money than we should have to pay. It’s an uphill struggle. The staff and I are working on it. There is not a day that goes by that we are not having a call trying to convince somebody to do something different."
Long was asked about the value of continuing to play through its annual SEC game with Texas A&M through 2024. Arkansas takes on Texas A&M at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas rather than home and home at the Aggies’ Kyle Field in College Station and Arkansas’ Reynolds Razorback Stadium, which A&M dictated in 2012 and 2013.
"It’s a win for Arkansas," Long said of annually playing A&M in the Dallas Metroplex. "It gets us into really our largest fan base outside the state of Arkansas. The recruiting down there is very important, and it’s not just recruiting of athletes. It’s recruiting of students. We’re getting a large number of high quality students out of the Dallas area."
And in football’s most talked about and futuristic stadium.
"For us it’s a great opportunity to compete in the world’s finest stadium," Long said. "It’s a big win for us."
Though resigning his chairmanship after two years, Long remains on the College Football Playoff Committee.
So with the Bobby Petrino coached Louisville Cardinals now 3-0 and ranked third by the Associated Press off a huge win over then No. 2 AP-ranked Florida State, might Long have to recuse himself rom committee discussions about the team coached by coach he fired at Arkansas?
Petrino’s last three of his four Arkansas seasons went 8-5, 10-3 and 11-2, but he was fired for violating UA hiring policy after his motorcycle crash revealed it was his mistress that he put on the UA payroll as an administrator in the football program.
"Bobby has always been an outstanding football coach. He proved that here, and he’s proven that at Western Kentucky in his short stay there, and he’s proving it again at Louisville," Long said. "I don’t think there has ever been a question about his football coaching ability and Louisville has a fine football program. We have got six more weeks before we rank a group of teams. But there is no reason to recuse."
With an estimated $160 million enhancement project for Reynolds Razorback Stadium to close the north end zone with luxury seating and a video board for those fans to see looking south, Long was asked how difficult the "tough decision" actually will be for Arkansas to end its one game per year at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium once the UA’s contract with War Memorial expires in 2018.
"Because of the history and tradition," Long said. "That makes it a tough decision. Absolutely."
However, the tradition of the Broyles Center takes a hit after this football season ends. Named for retired Arkansa athletic director-head football coach Frank Broyles, it will be torn down to make room for the north end zone project though it is scheduled to be rebuilt to house the athletic administration.
Barnhill Arena, the former storied home of Razorbacks and Lady Razorbacks basketball and still used to house the women’s volleyball team and some administration, might eventually be razed, Long said Wednesday.
"At some point down the road we need to think about Barnhill Arena and whether it’s usefulness has passed," Long said. "Any time you get a large, dated facility it’s very expensive to keep it up."
Long also talked about long-range plans to enhance Walton Arena, where the men and women basketball teams have played since 1993-1994.