No one knows for certain if the Arkansas Razorbacks will continue playing games at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium after 2018.
The announcement Wednesday that the Razorbacks would complete the current contract with a marquee game against Ole Miss on Oct. 13, 2018, during the 70th anniversary celebration of War Memorial Stadium may, or may not be, the swan song in the grand history of the Razorbacks in Little Rock.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, officials at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and officials with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, which operates the stadium, have said they will continue to discuss the possibility of games in Little Rock.
Interim UA Athletic Director Julie Cromer Peoples said last week that she and Chancellor Joe Steinmetz will keep working toward a long-term recommendation for their partnership with War Memorial Stadium.
"If I could just say, I find the time we spend down in Little Rock to encapsulate some of the best things about this state, and some of the best things about the history of this state," Cromer Peoples said. "I've been able to go to each of the games in Little Rock during my tenure here, and every time I meet more people that have stories about their memories and their time there.
"Whether it's someone growing up in Little Rock or someone who is able to get to the Little Rock game because of the part of the state in which they reside. So I think it's an important part of our history."
In an emailed statement, Steinmetz wrote, "We will continue until we reach the resolution of this issue."
A university spokesman said it would be accurate to infer that Steinmetz does not believe discussions will be delayed due to Athletic Director Jeff Long's dismissal on Nov. 15.
Trustee Cliff Gibson, a Monticello attorney who favors keeping Razorback games in Little Rock, said Long made it clear during one-on-one presentations to board members last month that he wanted to see the practice discontinued.
The presentation, given by Long and Steinmetz, estimated War Memorial Stadium will require between $4.9 million and $10 million in upgrades📄 to continue hosting Razorbacks games, according to copies of PowerPoint slides the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obtained through an open-records request.
The slideshow also included five pages of "benefits" and seven pages of "challenges" to playing in Little Rock.
"[Long] was convinced that there not be any more Little Rock games," Gibson said. "That was fair. He had reasons, statistics, if you will. ... He had reached the conclusion that was not in the best interest of Razorbacks athletics."
Long also presented the information to Hutchinson and Kane Webb, director of the parks and tourism department. During the meeting, Hutchinson asked Long to stop the presentation, Webb said.
"[Hutchinson] said, 'OK, I think I've seen most of the rest of this. Let's talk about something else,' " Webb said. "We talked about other things" related to the War Memorial Stadium contract.
Webb declined to discuss the conversation in detail.
"We don't have all day, so it was kind of, like, moving it along," said Webb, emphasizing there was no animosity. "We wanted to keep having a conversation."
Webb said Long appeared to have an "open mind" about the issue.
"My general impression was that Jeff was looking at the numbers, and he had decided that the numbers had added up to keeping the game in Fayetteville," Webb said. "He never said that explicitly at any time we talked. ... He was keeping an open mind pending what the board wanted him to do."
Gibson said he never discussed the future of Little Rock games with Long or Steinmetz "in the context of Mr. Long's employment." He referred a question about whether Long's perceived stance may have factored into his dismissal to Steinmetz.
"No," Steinmetz said in an emailed statement. "It wasn't an issue."
Two other trustees -- Tommy Boyer and Mark Waldrip -- said they felt Long had not reached a conclusion but was sharing information for them to analyze. Both said Steinmetz would decide the future of games in Little Rock.
Boyer, a former All-American Razorback basketball player, said his understanding is the negotiations were trending toward the idea of playing one football game in Little Rock every other year. However, he stressed that he had not heard an update in a few weeks.
When asked, Webb didn't specifically say whether the alternating year idea has been seriously considered.
"There have been talks about everything concerning War Memorial Stadium," Webb said. "Nothing is off the table or on the table."
Boyer said he supports keeping Little Rock on the Razorbacks' schedule.
"I don't live in Little Rock -- that puts me out in left field," Boyer said. "I think the governor has requested that the game be continued. I'm inclined to think that the game should be continued at this point in time. I think we need to continue the game."
Waldrip, who lives in Moro, said he doesn't have a firm opinion about whether Little Rock games should continue.
"It's a complex issue with numerous considerations," Waldrip said. "It requires a lot of analysis to be able to reach a decision."
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism has commissioned a stadium feasibility study with Frisco, Texas-based Conventions, Sports & Leisure. Webb said that study, originally expected in December, could be delayed by the UA shakeup.
"At this point, everything is up in the air," Webb said. "Before, we knew who we were dealing with, and now we don't. That's just life, man. We'll be fine. We have a good story to tell."
Sports on 11/24/2017
Print Headline: Hogs’ LR games remain a possibility