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Andy Hodges

Are regional matchups like Hogs-Memphis becoming more likely now?

Playing Memphis in basketball and, yes, even football, is something that should have happened already and economics might speed up scheduling that matchup.



There aren’t a lot of benefits for college athletics right now with far more questions than answers but the economic hit may force schools like Arkansas and others to start scheduling by geography.

My view is there would be more fan interest in playing schools like Memphis or even the community college in Jonesboro than bringing in the likes of Nevada or Charleston Wherever.

It’s not just my opinion, but CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander had the same thoughts Wednesday morning with Tye Richardson and Tommy Craft (The Morning Rush) on ESPN Arkansas.

“We will see (geographic rivalries) well established a year or two from now,” Norlander said. “The financial impact of all this will be realized in ’21, ’22 and ’23. When it comes to who you can play, geography might end up having a real impact on that.”

The guess here is the current coronavirus crisis is going to change a lot of college athletics and that might not be all that bad.

With Penny Hardaway and Eric Musselman having a cordial relationship, it really doesn’t make sense to NOT play in that sport. Exactly why the Razorbacks don’t play Memphis every year in basketball and football has been a head-scratcher.

It won’t be surprising to see that happen.

“Given what Penny has said since he’s taken the gig he just doesn’t seem like a coach who’s scared of that kind of stuff and not worried about any previous politics with that,” Norlander said.

The coaches can get the ball rolling, but it’s going to take Hunter Yurachek to just lay out the numbers and increased fan interest for the games to actually happen.

“This applies to college football as much as college basketball,” Norlander said. “It is such a good thing for the health and interest of the sport when you have natural geographic rivals that aren’t in the same conference that are willing to play each other — ideally — annually, but short of that at least frequently.

“For Memphis and Arkansas there’s almost no reason not to do it.”

He’s got a point there that some have wondered about for awhile. If nothing else, the Hogs have struggled mightily against lesser teams the last few years in football.

Musselman is upgrading the schedule in basketball by taking his team to neutral-site matchups, leaving a chance for home matchups that could boost some of that attendance that falls a bit in November and December.

Even going to Memphis for a game every other year would probably create a hot ticket for a road game in an NBA facility in a downtown where Razorback fans usually find a way to have a good time.

“Why wouldn’t you?” Norlander said. “At this point Memphis and Arkansas are essentially on even footing. Playing each other would benefit both programs, the fan bases would be into it.

“Both coaches certainly seem to see the game in a lot of ways that would help it. It would be terrific.”

Quite possibly it could get both programs some solid early-season exposure on a broader scale.

“Is a Memphis-Arkansas game going to bring in wide national appeal?” Norlander said. “Not necessarily, but it’s not going to be a thing where only people in the region care.

“If you tell me Arkansas Memphis, we look up in two years from now and they’re playing a game, both of these teams have made the NCAA Tournament, both of these teams are bringing in five-star recruits and have really strong classes, yes that becomes a game on a given day.

“Say they play on the first Saturday in December and both teams are in the tournament, that becomes a game — almost certainly — that’s a top three game that day. It would be one of the top games that day.”

It’s something Norlander feels the sport needs.

“We need more coaches, athletic directors and their schools to be willing to do that.” he said. “It inherently helps the sport. Sometimes ego gets in the way. Missouri and Kansas are doing it in football and basketball. I would love to see it.”

That may be a big boost after this shutdown business as they start to sort things out. The guess here is expenses are going to be scrutinized more closely … at least for a few years.

Which may force some of these schools to do what they should have been doing for awhile.


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