Photographs by Mitchell PE Masilun
This Friday, March 16, 2018, photo shows War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Thursday, May 17, 2018
The Arkansas Razorbacks will host football games against the Missouri Tigers at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock every other year as part of a broader "compromise" agreement that partly preserves the long-standing tradition, according to two sources familiar with the deal.
The series is part of a fresh deal between the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and the state Department of Parks and Tourism, which controls the stadium, as a current contract between the two nears its end, sources said.
In off years, the Razorbacks will play their annual Red-White spring intrasquad game at War Memorial, as was the case this year, one source said.
State and university officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
UA and Department of Parks and Tourism officials will make a joint announcement at 10 a.m. today outside the stadium, the university announced Wednesday evening.
UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, Parks and Tourism Director Kane Webb and War Memorial Stadium Commission Chairman Kevin Crass will attend the news conference, according to a news release.
Under the current contract, the Razorbacks' final obligation would be the Ole Miss game in October. UA has played annually at the stadium since it opened in 1948.
Whether UA would continue playing football games in the state's capital has been the topic of speculation for months. Officials have been in talks since at least last year, when then-Athletic Director Jeff Long gave presentations to trustees and state officials about whether it made sense to continue the 70-year-old practice.
The 72,000-seat Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville is undergoing a $160 million renovation and expansion, backed by $120 million in bonds and fundraising. Primarily focused on new or upgraded premium seats, the upgrade is scheduled to be ready for the 2018 season.
Attempts to reach a UA athletic department spokesman, a spokesman for the governor, and Webb were not immediately successful. A Missouri athletic department spokesman referred questions to UA officials "since it's their home games."
"I can't confirm anything, but an announcement will be made soon," Steinmetz said Wednesday by text message, before the UA news release about today's ceremony.
Terms of the deal, including its length, weren't immediately clear, though one source said it will address necessary renovations to the aging stadium and includes attendance thresholds that Little Rock will have to meet in order to extend the agreement further.
The Razorbacks are scheduled to play the Tigers in Columbia, Mo., this year, and it was not clear Wednesday whether the series in Little Rock would start in 2019.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola praised a "great legacy of wins" at War Memorial Stadium and said he encouraged maintaining games in Little Rock.
"The primary motivator is the U of A is the flagship, and it represents the entire state," Stodola said. "It's great for them to expand their reach to all parts of the state."
Long and Steinmetz, in presentations last year to individual University of Arkansas System trustees and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, estimated that War Memorial Stadium will require between $4.9 million and $10 million in upgrades to continue hosting Razorback games.
The consulting firm Conventions Sport & Leisure International LLC, based in Texas, released a study in March that found War Memorial Stadium needed about $17 million worth of maintenance work and improvements to remain useful. Parks and Tourism commissioned the $160,000 study.
Long's slide-show presentation included five pages of "benefits" and seven pages of "challenges" to playing in Little Rock, and trustees said at the time that they felt Long wanted to stop playing "home" games in the capital.
During Long's presentation to Hutchinson, the governor asked him to stop and changed topics, Webb, who was in the meeting, said last year.
Steinmetz fired Long in November, days before football Coach Bret Bielema was dismissed. Bielema was fired minutes after the Razorbacks dropped their season finale to Missouri, punctuating a 4-8 season.
One week after Long's dismissal, UA announced that Ole Miss would be the 2018 opponent, ending months of speculation of which team fans in central Arkansas would be able to see. The Razorbacks defeated Florida A&M by a score of 49-7 in the 2017 Little Rock game.
Yurachek, Long's replacement, announced by email in January that the Razorbacks would play this year's Red-White spring football game in Little Rock, which occurred in April.
"One thing that has become abundantly clear to [new football] Coach [Chad] Morris and me is the importance of the Razorbacks throughout the state," Yurachek wrote.
For neighbors, Arkansas and Missouri haven't played each other very often. Four of the nine games between the schools have been since 2012, when Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers hold a 6-3 advantage.
Information for this article was contributed by Jaime Adame and Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 05/17/2018
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