Category Archives: Arkansas Is Kind Of A Big Deal

“It’s not an easy question from an economic standpoint.”

Those of us who debate the question of the Cocktail Party remaining in Jacksonville might be interested in reading about Arkansas’ struggle with playing home games — at this point, more like a home game — in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

In this case, the math is pretty stark.

“If this was a dollars-and-cents decision, it’s easy,” says Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek, and he’s correct. That presentation from last fall shows Arkansas loses $3.7 million per game by playing in Little Rock instead of Fayetteville – and beginning this fall, after that construction is completed, the number is expected to jump to $4.7 million.

There appears to still be a “but”, though.

But Yurachek, who was hired in December, isn’t finished:

“It’s not an easy decision if you talk about how playing games in Little Rock is a part of the fabric of this great state,” he adds.

If the situation is unique, so is Arkansas’ relationship with the Razorbacks. Without competition from professional sports or a significant in-state rival, the state essentially coalesces around the Hogs. (“One of the things I’ve found here is that everybody is a Razorback fan in some way, shape or form, at some level,” Yurachek says.) The result is undivided loyalty unlike almost anywhere else (several million Nebraskans might disagree). Viewed through that prism, an anachronism like playing games off campus might make sense, even as it hemorrhages dollars.

Former athletic director Jeff Long, who declined comment, was generally seen as desirous of moving the games to Fayetteville. But it was never that simple. And others have weighed in, publicly but also privately, and may have altered the equation. In a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson reiterated his support for keeping games in Little Rock.

“The history and traditions of Hog games at War Memorial Stadium are woven into the fabric of life in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said, “and I think it’s good for the University and Razorback fans across the state for that partnership to continue.”

That message is consistent with what Yurachek says he’s heard in several meetings with the governor. Others note that the governor appoints the university’s board of trustees, who’ll ultimately be asked to vote on the issue. A decision is expected by late spring or early summer, after Yurachek and Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz present a recommendation to the board.

“We fully understand what an important decision this is for all Razorback fans, especially for those who have been a part of the rich history and tradition of attending games at War Memorial Stadium for decades,” Steinmetz said in a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports. “We’ve taken the time to make sure we make the best decision possible for all involved.”

Politics and being the only game in town makes for a heady mix.  There are also infrastructure issues in the mix.

… Despite several renovations through the years, War Memorial Stadium is showing its age. In their presentation last fall, university officials said the stadium required significant facility upgrades with a price tag of up to $10 million in order to remain viable as a site for Razorback games. A recent feasibility study commissioned by Arkansas Parks and Tourism suggested $17 million in capital improvements were required. Those would likely be band-aids for the structure.

… For SEC games, a league rule requires the opponent to sign off on playing away from campus. And later this spring, a working group of SEC athletic directors is expected to unveil minimum standards for football venues, including for visitors’ and officials’ locker rooms (part of the $17 million in proposed improvements to War Memorial Stadium).

Speaking of politics, placating a powerful alum has created an even bigger home scheduling hurdle than Georgia has in Jax:

Another not insignificant piece to the puzzle: Through 2024, Arkansas is contracted to play its annual game with Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas – fondly known as “Jerry World,” for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a former Razorback player who remains vitally involved in the program.

Every other year, as the designated home team in the series, Arkansas essentially loses a home date. If the Razorbacks are also playing in Little Rock, they’ll lose two dates on campus. And in Arlington and Little Rock, NCAA rules don’t allow Arkansas to conduct the same recruiting activities as at games on campus.

Really, when you boil it down, Arkansas has it much worse than does Georgia.  Playing in Jacksonville is a financial plus, the stadium meets NFL standards and the Dawgs aren’t playing two home games a year off campus.  And yet, they’re still saying Little Rock has a chance.

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Next time, they’ll do better.

One positive development from player compensation becoming a reality is that I doubt we’ll see the days of allowing a coach who went 29-34 overall in five seasons at Arkansas, 11-29 in the SEC during his tenure to walk away with an $11.935 million buyout again.

Which is a good thing, considering how boneheaded both sides were about Bert’s hire in the first place.

Since getting fired, Bielema has thought a lot about what worked so well at Wisconsin and what didn’t work at Arkansas. The biggest difference between the two, he believes, was how well he understood the Badgers’ program before he took over as the head coach after spending two years as Barry Alvarez’s defensive coordinator. “I want to go into a situation where you know everything that’s going on,” Bielema said. “I didn’t have to worry about uncovering land mines halfway into the job.”

Bielema estimates that he’d spent about 24 hours in Arkansas in his entire life before taking the Razorbacks job. At Wisconsin, he knew exactly what the program’s strengths and deficiencies were. Plus, Alvarez had provided a spectacular blueprint for success. (A blueprint current Badgers coach Paul Chryst has followed quite well.) At Arkansas, Bielema had to learn all that on the job. The fallout from Bobby Petrino’s firing and a disastrous season with John L. Smith as the interim coach necessitated an overhaul, but if you examine Bielema’s record, he actually came through that part O.K. The 2015 season, when the Razorbacks went 8–5 overall and 5–3 in the SEC, seemed to indicate a turning of the corner.

But Bielema admits he didn’t initially realize how deep a team needed to be on both lines of scrimmage to succeed in the SEC West.

Might have been nice to know that before you jumped jobs.  And to think that many people believed Jeff Long was one of the most competent ADs in the business.

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Filed under Arkansas Is Kind Of A Big Deal, Bert... uh... Bret Bielema, It's Just Bidness

One little mistake

It appears that Bert’s buyout is going to be ginormous because somebody didn’t pay attention to the contract draft.

Bielema’s original contract in 2012 with UA listed a chart with buyout amounts and included language that the figures in the chart should be plugged into a formula. The contract extension in 2015 laid out a new chart with higher figures but maintained that “all other text, terms and conditions … shall remain the same and shall not be modified in any way by this First Amendment.”

The formula says to take the amount listed as the guaranty payment identified in the chart and to divide that by the number of months in the term of employment. The formula then says to take that amount and multiply it by the number of months remaining on the contract.

Under that formula, the Democrat-Gazette took the $15.4 million and divided it by 97 — the span of Bielema’s employment from Dec. 4, 2012, through the end of his most recent contract, Dec. 31, 2020. The newspaper then took that figure and multiplied by 37 — a rough figure that included the month of December 2017 and the remaining three years of Bielema’s contract. It totaled $5.87 million.

Bielema’s deal with the foundation includes the same chart as his contract extension but does not refer to the formula included in the original contract.  [Emphasis added.]

That’s almost a $10 million oversight.

I keep telling you these people aren’t that sharp.  But they care about football!

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If you have to ask, you don’t want to know.

For some reason, Bert doesn’t want folks to know what this kind of year is worth when you get fired:

Bret Bielema’s time as Arkansas’ coach came to an end after a 4-8 season, including a 1-7 mark in SEC play and a 3-4 record in home games. The Razorbacks lost a school-record five games by more than 20 points.

It sounds like things are still unresolved (“As of Wednesday, Bielema and the Razorback Foundation continued to negotiate a release agreement that would finalize several unresolved issues, including his buyout amount, officials said.”), so maybe this is simply the case where everyone involved is afraid of the public outcry before a final deal is negotiated.

Or maybe the arrangement is so complicated, nobody can figure out what the hell is going on.

Bielema’s deal with the foundation, called a “personal services and guaranty agreement,” was referred to in the section of his university employment contract that explained what the athletic program would owe him if it fired him.

His amended employment contract with the university includes a chart listing buyout amounts, which appears alongside language saying the chart’s numbers are only part of a formula to determine the actual severance pay. It also says the buyout is dependent upon his Razorback Foundation agreement and any amendments to it.

The agreement set Bielema’s buyout at more than $11 million, according to a source close to the program. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in October reported the buyout as $5.9 million, based on a legal analysis of Bielema’s contract with the university.

UA is one of six public universities under the University of Arkansas System umbrella. The UA campus, the system’s largest, is in Fayetteville, while the system’s administrative offices are in Little Rock.

The system also includes an Office of General Counsel, led by a head attorney in Little Rock. The office has other associate general counsels who are spread out among the system’s campuses.

The Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 6 filed an open-records request with the university seeking the agreement, but the document was found within the system’s records, Rushing said. A UA System spokesman said Wednesday night that the record was found in the Office of General Counsel.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously requested “controlling documents related to a buyout” from the university and the Razorback Foundation on Oct. 13 and from the system on Oct. 19. The foundation ignored the request, and the university and the system did not provide it.

Asked why UA did not have a copy of the document if it is considered a personnel record, Rushing said an employee’s right to an attorney general review includes “other records pertaining to personnel,” not just records in someone’s personnel file.

What is it about treating coaches’ contracts like they’re state secrets, anyway?

(h/t)

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Whither the Gus Bus?

One puzzle about a rumor making the rounds is why Gus Malzahn would consider leaving Auburn for Arkansas.  I know he’s from there, so there’s a little momma factor in play, but Arkansas is a much tougher job than Auburn is.  Sure, Alabama is Alabama, but as this year proved again, when Malzahn has a quarterback who fits his system, he can go toe-to-toe with Saban.

So what’s the deal, then?  Stupid me… when in doubt, what’s always the deal?

And, yes, all those are just backdrop issues to the larger anvil lingering over what should be a sun-kissed weekend for Auburn – a contract showdown. Arkansas is so eager to throw money at Auburn coach Gus Malzahn that they are holding up their entire search just for the opportunity. One source with knowledge of Arkansas’ thinking said the school is “ready to back up the Brinks truck” to lure Malzahn away from Auburn. Arkansas athletics has financial backing of the families around Tyson Foods and Walmart who’d like nothing better for their native son to return home.

Malzahn’s contract hasn’t been significantly adjusted – other than a year added on – since the eve of the SEC championship in 2013.

Days after Tennessee threw truly stupid money at Mike Gundy, it would be foolish to assume Arkansas, with those resources, couldn’t behave similarly.  Add to that a rudderless athletic department at Auburn with Jacobs’ imminent departure as well as the school’s well-earned “what have you done for us lately?” reputation which is something Malzahn recognizes from his own hiring and I can’t entirely discount the possibility.

I don’t know that any uncertainty over their future will have an impact Saturday night, but it won’t bother me if it does.

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#Karma rears its ugly head.

The game might have been over for 60 seconds before the announcement came.  Quick and cold.

The deck is cleared for the triumphant return of Gus, right?

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Money for nothing

Jeebus.  Jeff Long, Arkansas’ former athletic director who’s got the school on the hook for something like a $15 million buyout for a football coach whose won-loss record is significantly underwater, has himself got a $4.625 million buyout.  $4.625 million!

I’m in the wrong profession.

Keep in mind, too, that there’s a decent chance the folks who ousted Long after giving him that deal will dump Bert and look for a replacement without hiring a new AD first.  Christ, every agent in America’s got to be lining up for some of that sweet action.  As the old joke goes, I’d call them morons, except that would be an insult to morons everywhere.

Too bad there’s no money for student-athletes’ compensation, although we should consider that Jeff Long’s name doesn’t appear on the back of a jersey.

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