How Jarryd Hayne’s Sprint Time Compares to NFL Stars’

Will Hayne be the Neil Armstrong of Rugby/NFL dual superstardom?

Hayne could be the Neil Armstrong of Rugby/NFL dual superstardom

While the headlines Australian rugby superstar Jarryd Hayne generated last month by announcing a crossover to the NFL have simmered down, the training for his new life in the U.S. has heated up. How efficiently  the 26-year-old can train his body to handle the demands of American football in the coming months will to a large part determine his future success.

In whichever city he ultimately lands, that transition won’t easy.

Take it from the British rugby player Hayden Smith, who attempted a similar transition.  “American Football is about short bursts of speed and power. The guys are bigger but then they don’t have to have the endurance that rugby players do,” he told The Telegraph in December, 2012 after a season in the NFL. “So, having come back, one of the things I need to work on is getting my conditioning back to where it  needs to be to play rugby again. You spend more time in the gym and then sprint training and body control. It is key to be able to change direction quickly without breaking stride.”

While both sports at their highest levels require unusually high combinations of speed, agility and strength, American football is driven much more by structured set pieces while rugby tends to be a more free-flowing game.  There, positions – and body shapes – have become more specialized. In rugby, meanwhile, body sizes across all positions tend to be more uniform.

It’s been rumored up to six NFL teams have been interested in trying Hayne out, including the Detroit Lions. Detroit running back Reggie Bush firsthand saw Hayne’s rugby ability this summer on a visit to Australia and said he felt Hayne’s extraordinary vision, quickness and powerful frame would help him excel in the NFL were he to choose that path.

After Hayne announced he was indeed going down that path on October 15,  he said he has no doubt about the difficulties the change entails.  “We’ll take it week by week and see where I’m at and whether I’m in that condition to progress for a trial or not,” he told The Guardian. “If we go down that avenue, then so be it. But the overall plan is for 12 months and to do as much training as I can and to prepare and to learn all the routes, learn all the schemes … I just want to get the basics down pat.”

Hayne said he needed to shed 10 kilograms, improve core strength through a rigorous gym program and markedly raise his sprint speed. The challenge is huge, as at the 2014 NFL Draft Combine 20 wide receivers were clocked at less than 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In the strength department, 12 participants lifted 102kg (bench press) more than 16 times in a row, with 23 reps the highest.

So how do Hayne’s metrics stack up?

First off, rugby prospects’ speed aren’t measured using the NFL’s standard 40-yard dash. They instead run 100 meter dashes. Hayne has claimed a time of 11.20 seconds, making him Australia’s third-fastest rugby player, according to The Telegraph.

That time does not, however, convert to elite NFL speed. The following graph shows 100 meter times of a few NFL running backs and kick returners who have been measured at that length  (These are the positions for which Hayne is seen as a most likely fit).

Notable 100m Dash Times of NFL Players

Player     Position     100m Dash Time

Jamaal Charles RB     10.18

Trindon Holliday KR     9.98

Devin Hester KR/WR     10.42

Reggie Bush RB     10.42 (High School)

Pre-season workouts: How NFL stars prepare for action

As if simply looking at NFL stars’ bodies wasn’t enough, the above times are clear indicators NFL players are world-class athletes. To maximize their performance, though, they must follow pre-season drills and exercises specifically tailored to their individual body shape, physiology and fitness goals.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Six-Minute Video of Nearly 10,000 Hog Fans Flooding Field after Beating LSU

For at the least the third time in school history, students swarmed the field at what’s now the Reynolds Razorback Stadium. In 1999, I was in the stands as a freshman UA student. Seeing so many classmates rush the field to tear down the goalposts (en route to Dickson St.) in the aftermath of a 28-24 win over Tennessee was an amazing thing. But it’s only in my mind. No iPhones back then.

That wasn’t the case Saturday night, in the aftermath of the most cathartic sports event I’ve ever experienced. I happened to be in the stands once more, this time with means to document the historic night.

Here are a few snapshots  -

Below are a couple videos, too. The one at top shows hundreds of UA students gushing all of the sudden onto the field. If I were to make a horrible analogy, I’d say it’s similar to seeing someone’s water break. But I won’t do that.

(PS – Excuse the initial shakiness. It took a while to get my bearings with all the pandemonium.)

Aftermath

IMG_0134


Before Arkansas-LSU, Had a Winless Conference Team Been Favored Vs. a Top 25 Squad?

brolyles snazzy passerOn the surface, it doesn’t make any sense.

How can a team not able to muster a conference win in 25 months be favored heading into a game against a perennial SEC power and Top 25 team? Yet it’s this unlikely situation Arkansas found itself in much of this week entering tonight’s home game vs. No. 20 LSU. Many major sportsbooks in Las Vegas favored the Hogs by one. They knew Arkansas has been so close to beating a a few Top 10 teams this season as it plows through the nation’s toughest schedule.

But has anything like this ever happened before? That is, has a team still winless in conference in November entered a game against a Top 25 team as nearly the favorite, in the process spitting on one of Bill Parcells’ most treasured maxims?

Not quite – but close.

In the last 12 years or so, the most similar parallel came on Nov 24th, 2012 from the Big East, when Pittsburgh (4-6, 1-4) was favored by 1.5 over No. 18 Rutgers (9-1, 5-0),  according to research done by the full-service sports statistical site KOStats.com. Pitt beat Rutgers 27-6. But for insight into the 20th century, I went to my football historian friend Andrew McKillop of FootballGeography.com. He came back with this:

“There were some leads, but when I looked up the line the Top 25 team was always favored.
The closest I found was in 1944. Duke (1-4) was called just a slight underdog at home against No. 5 Georgia Tech. Duke won and the next week they were ranked No. 20th by the AP – despite that 2-4 record.”
Guess why this Georgia Tech squad was ranked so highly to begin with?
Frank Broyles – the 1944 SEC Player of the Year.
broyles punt

 Images courtesy of Georgia Tech Archives and Special Collections

Yes, Broyles, the eventual legendary Razorback patriarch who hired Jeff Long who hired Bret Bielema who leads Arkansas tonight. Broyles, still kicking at age 89, was in his playing days a jack-of-all-trades All-American back who punted, threw for touchdowns and returned opponents’ passes for scores of his own.

Heading into that November 4, 1944 game at Duke, Broyles had helped lead Georgia Tech to a 5-0 record including a 17-15 takedown of then-dominant Navy. The Blue Devils, which were in a different conference, had only lost by seven to Navy but had been crushed 7-27 by Army the game before.

It didn’t matter. This game belonged to Duke, despite Broyles’ throwing for a 42-yard touchdown to Mickey Logan.

Mickey Logan: Georgia Tech's Rudy?

Mickey Logan: Georgia Tech’s Rudy?

Duke went on to win its remaining four games, including wipe outs of North Carolina, Wake Forest and South Carolina, as well as a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Georgia Tech won its next three of four games (inc. LSU) and was invited to the Orange Bowl, where Broyles threw for 304 yards in a loss to Tulsa (a record not broken until Tom Brady did it in 2000).

FB: Straight dual-threatin'

            Broyles: Straight dual-threatin’

In later years, Broyles would get his revenge on Duke. Not in football as Arkansas’ head coach, but in basketball as its athletic director. Thirty years after that 1944 loss, he convinced a promising young basketball coach named Eddie Sutton to leave Creighton and come to Fayetteville. Duke was another program heavily courting Sutton at the time, according to Sports Illustrated.

Fifty years after that loss, he would watch in Charlotte as his basketball program and another coach he hired wrest something even more precious from Duke – a national title.

In case you doubted the above 1945 Georgia Tech annual clips are authentic, kindly observe Allen Bowen’s nickname below for verification:

Broyles profile pic throwing

all americans


Matt Jones’ & David Bazzel’s Ideas for an Arkansas-Missouri Rivalry Trophy

The Yellow Horde Cometh. Rejoice?

The Golden Horde Cometh.

Can Missouri become the legit Arkansas rival into which LSU never quite developed?

Many Hog fans believe so. From a geographic standpoint, it makes sense, considering the campuses are about five hours apart – an hour closer than Ole Miss (Oxford) ,  the second-closest SEC campus to Fayetteville.

“I believe in the next decade or so it will be a good rivalry,” former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones says. “Both Arkansas and Mizzou are kind of in the same boat” in terms of overall recent football success. For the hate to really to flourish, though, Missouri must remain near the top of the SEC East and Arkansas must start beating its SEC West foes. He believes that for a true rivalry to flourish between two SEC programs, they must both meet in a regular season finale, both should win roughly half the games they play with each other overall, and each program should – at least once every five years –  play in the game with an SEC Championship Game appearance on the line.

It’s possible if both teams head into that final game with zero or one loss, they would meet again a few weeks later in the SEC Championship Game.  That’s something LSU and Arkansas can’t do now. And it’s not inconceivable that if both programs keep building off their current momentum, they may in a few years end up as two of the four (or eight) College Football Playoff teams. Any post-season clash at this level would kick the rivalry authentication process into warp speed.

Mutual success in the early years will ensure a healthy rivalry in the long run even when both programs inevitably wane at some point. Matt Jones likened this dynamic to Ole Miss and Mississippi State, where “if they beat each other and nobody else, that’s all that matters. It was never like that with LSU and us.”

Two other important factors here: A) As an SEC newcomer, Missouri hasn’t yet had time to develop a more hated in-conference rival already as Texas and LSU had and B) The rivalry’s basketball side will complement and strengthen the football animosity in ways that never happened with LSU-Arkansas or even Texas-Arkansas.

The fact left Hog basketball coach Mike Anderson and much of his staff left Missouri for Arkansas plays a lot into this, of course. It also helps the states of Missouri and Arkansas are in golden eras in terms of elite basketball recruits per capita, their schools often recruit against each other for the best players and that in vast swaths of northern Arkansas and Missouri, basketball – not football – is the most popular sport. That’s not the case in Louisiana and Texas.

Time will tell exactly what form the Missouri-Arkansas rivalry takes, and how deeply it will impress itself on the memories and hearts of today’s young Arkansans and Missourians.

In the short term, however, we have a much more concrete image of what the rivalry will look like. Earlier this month, the two colleges announced the game’s logo:

Battle line rivalry

In a press release, the University of Arkansas played up the “geographic and historical boundaries” between the states, “from disputed demarcations of the border separating the two states to notable alumni and former personnel with ties to both storied athletic programs. The historic rivalry between the two states will take on even more meaning now, as every Thanksgiving weekend the Battle Line will be drawn on the gridiron. The Razorbacks or Tigers will ultimately stake claim to the “Line” – until the next meeting.”

We don’t yet know what the “Line” is, exactly, but don’t be surprised to see a trophy emerge here. Will it, like the Golden Boot, be clad in the glory of a thousand suns?

Probably not.

But there are some interesting ideas out there. I find it hard not to like the message board favorite “ARMOgedden,” but for now the graphic representation of it wallows in alumni association tailgating motif purgatory.

Former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones would like to see a kid-friendly trophy emphasizing the mascots. It would represent a giant pot, containing a “Tiger Sooey” witches’ brew that would be stirred by some not-yet-defined creature’s hand, he says.  Perhaps sticking out from the pot would be a tiger paw, or hog’s leg. Perhaps a witch looking like a hog-tiger hybrid stirs it. Suffice to say, Jones’ idea hasn’t exactly congealed.

David Bazzel has also had a crack at it.  His idea is one Carmen Sandiego would love. The logo he designed features the line of latitude which serves as much of Arkansas’ northern border. Nationally, the parallel 36°30′ north is best known for marking the Missouri Compromise, which in the early 1800s divided prospective free and slave states west of the Mississippi River:

mizzouark

For a few years controversy extending all the way to Washington D.C. entangled the Missouri-Arkansas area near the Mississippi River. The result: Arkansas’ weird, jagged northeastern corner. “I think anything’s cool if you have a historical context to it,” Bazzel says. If his idea had taken, “people would have said ‘What is 36°30’?’, and that’s where you would have to explain it to them. So it would have included history.”

Bazzel says he offered his concept to some people at IMG College, a major collegiate sports marketing company, involved creating the rivalry logo. He isn’t sure to what extent, if any, his idea was assimilated into the final rendition.  “I don’t mind the ‘battle line,’” he says. “It’s similar to what I was doing.”

When it comes to branding the future of Arkansas and Missouri’s rivalry, the past is in.


Why LSU & Arkansas Players Mock the Notion of a True Rivalry Between Them

http://www.hogdb.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/1910-Arkansas-LSU-Program-Edited.jpg

Despite the presence of seed, LSU-Arkansas could never really take root. via HogDB.com

Twenty two years after leaving the Southwest Conference for the SEC, Arkansas still doesn’t have a true conference rival. On paper, it should have been LSU, a perennial conference title contender (like Texas) bordering Arkansas (like Texas) that like Texas once prevented Arkansas from winning a national championship.

  Plus, the annual LSU-Arkansas series has had perks Texas-Arkansas never did: a regular spot on national TV during Thanksgiving weekend, the Bellagio of college football trophies in the 200-pound Golden Boot and no in-state rival like Texas A&M to stir Texas fans’ deepest passions (well, no Aggies for a while, anyway).

 On top of all that, LSU-Arkansas has recently produced games every bit as competitive and entertaining to watch as the great Hog-Longhorn showdowns of the 1960s. And it’s likely this Saturday’s game in Fayetteville, for which Arkansas is a 1 point favorite according to SportsBettingAcumen.com sites, produces yet another thriller.

  “It’s a rivalry game,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema told me in an interview for SB Nation. “The boot represents more than just a victory. It’s a battle between two states, something our fans take a lot of pride in. Obviously with LSU being the last game of the year there’s been a built-up rivalry here that we will hope to continue.”

   Bielema lauds the rivalry aspect of the game in public, just as previous Arkansas and LSU coaches and players have. It’s no secret, though, that the enmity true rivals have for each other has been lacking here.

   Take it from Matt Jones, the former Razorback quarterback responsible for the “Miracle on Markham,” possibly the series’ most memorable moment – a 31-yard Hail Mary pass to DeCori Birmingham with nine seconds left in the 2002 game that sent Arkansas to the SEC Championship game. The year before, Jones was on the opposite side as Arkansas lost a 41-38 contest sending the Tigers to Atlanta. “You knew it was a big game for whatever reason but there never ever seemed like there was a connection between Arkansas and LSU,” he says. “It was almost like it was a little bit forced on you.”

Jones says many of his teammates felt the same, as did LSU foes like running back LaBrandon Toefield. After college, Jones and Toefield were NFL teammates in Jacksonville, Fla. “We always joked” about how the series was played up, Jones says. Many LSU players “didn’t see it as a rivalry at all,” he recalls Toefield saying. “It was something the media put out.”

    Carter Bryant, an Arkansas native and LSU grad, is part of the media. Now a radio host in El Dorado, Ark., he’s covered Tiger football for four years and doesn’t understand why the rivalry hasn’t caught on more. “It means a good deal to people in south Arkansas and north Louisiana because of proximity,” he says.

    “But to the people of south Louisiana, it means little compared to other rivalries with trophies. LSU has pushed the Ole Miss rivalry over the years with the Magnolia Bowl trophy. Alabama with [Nick] Saban history has created a fascinating narrative plus instant classics. Every other team in the SEC West outside of Mississippi State is probably viewed as more heavily anticipated and vitriolic matchup in the minds of LSU fans.” That includes Texas A&M, which has supplanted Arkansas as the Tigers’ season finale. Not coincidentally, annual primetime showdowns with Texas A&M will help generate more profit for the SEC most years than an Arkansas matchup would.

  For now, Arkansas fans are as likely to hate Alabama, or Ole Miss, as LSU. Or even an SEC East program.  “The team that I hated the most was Tennessee,” Jones recalls. Jones, who grew up in Van Buren, points to one experience as the reason. He recalls as a nine-year-old hunting with his father and walking onto a cabin in the woods. Inside, people were watched TV and cheered. On the screen, the unranked Razorbacks were pushing the No. 4 Volunteers to the wire on the road. He’ll never forget the euphoria that followed watching Arkansas kicker Todd Wright’s 41-yard field goal sail through the uprights with two seconds left to give Arkansas its first victory in Knoxville, Tenn.

   Tennessee, though, already had Alabama and Florida as nemeses. Another SEC border state, Mississippi, had two in-state rivals. “Everybody kind of had a rival but us, so we had to manufacture one,” former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt says.

    Enter David Bazzel, an entrepreneur who has found a niche promoting Arkansas college athletics. Bazzel loves gold, and he loves football, and from all that love sprung the idea for this:

lsu-arkansas-the-boot-2012-570x379

Bazzel’s Golden Boot trophy, which depicts the two states’ outlines, debuted in 1996. He hoped its record-setting 4-foot plus height would help the game attract national attention and produce better competition. “It’s about playing for something, whether it be a paper clip, a rubber band or empty Coke can,” he says. In this case, “it just so happens to be a 200-pound trophy.”  He adds: “I wanted it to develop into a fun trophy game, not particularly a rivalry.”

Historically, most trophy games, of course, are based in rivalries. But that’s changing as power conferences create trophies for series involving program with little shared history. Usually these series involve states that don’t share borders,  like Nebraska-Wisconsin or South Carolina-Texas A&M, but the situation with Arkansas’ next SEC-sanctioned rival is different.

That would be Missouri, which replaces LSU as Arkansas’ regular season finale.


Houston Nutt Predicts Arkansas Will Beat LSU, Make Bowl Game

He's a believer.

He’s a believer.

Temperatures during this Saturday’s game between Arkansas and No. 20 LSU may dip below freezing, but when it comes to competitiveness no SEC trophy game series has been hotter. In each of the last nine games of this rivalry, an average of 6.2 points has been all that separates the teams. Eight times the difference has been eight points or less. It appears the only other major college trophy series with more consistently exciting finishes has been Duke-North Carolina, decided by an average of five points* in the same span.

In the last three years, LSU’s and Arkansas’ fortunes have fallen — the Tigers’ a little, Hogs’ a lot  — but the two sides haven’t let their fans down when facing each other. In 2012, nobody thought the burning Hogmobile soon-to-be-fired coach John L. Smith drove into Razorback Reynolds Stadium could pull away with a win against No. 8 LSU, but those struggling Hogs somehow out-gained LSU 462-306 in total yardage and in the closing seconds were an 18-yard touchdown pass away from forcing overtime.

Likewise, last year’s game also came down to the last couple minutes, when LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings found receiver Travin Dural on a 49-yard TD bomb that detonated Arkansas’ hopes of picking up a first SEC win since 2012.

Arkansas (4-5, 0-5) still seeks that first landmark victory. Many insiders predict the Razorbacks get it Saturday night at home. Coming off a strong showing against No. 1 Mississippi State and a bye week, Arkansas is favored by 2, according to the latest NCAAF game lines. This likely marks the first time a college football team without a conference win is favored over a Top 25 opponent this late in the season.**

Louisiana State, the would-be victim, looks to rebound from a bruising home loss to Alabama. Jennings was banged up in in the 20-13 affair and projects to have limited mobility against an Arkansas defense among the nation’s best in creating havoc in its opponent’s backfield. “Arkansas couldn’t catch them at a better time,”says Houston Nutt, former Razorback head coach. “You have a team who fought their guts out against Alabama … and now they have got to come to Fayetteville against a very hungry Arkansas team.”

“You know [LSU] is used to fighting for championships as well,” he adds, noting the difficulty of physically recovering from last week’s slugfest and overcoming a natural emotional letdown after losing an SEC West title shot. “They’re probably out of it.” Nutt predicts Arkansas will not only beat LSU, but ultimately go to a bowl game after winning at least one of its following two games against Ole Miss and Missouri.

Any bowl is great news for an Arkansas program starving for success. The same cannot be said of LSU, which was so close to still being in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth. Now, whether it finishes the season with seven or nine wins, the Tigers are likely returning to the Outback Bowl or to the Taxslayer, Belk, Liberty, Texas or Music City bowls, writes The  Advocate’s Scott Rabalais. Not exactly music to Tiger fans’ ears.

Given what’s not at stake, it’s time Les Miles and the LSU staff maximize the develop of their record 17 true freshmen these next three games, Rabalais says. Split quarterbacking duties between the struggling Jennings and frosh Brandon Harris. Crank up the carry-o-meter for freshmen tailbacks Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams. And “maximize the D-line rotations for the younger players like Sione Teuhema, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. In the secondary, get more work for youngsters like Ed Paris and Jamal Adams and Russell Gage.”

“This season was never going to be about championships,” Rabalais adds. “It was always going to be a bridge to what the Tigers hope will be a brighter future.”

Paradoxically, this kind of talk, as well as the betting lines, may actually serve as a greater incentive to LSU players than whatever on-field consequences an Arkansas win could mean for them. Yes, of course, they want to keep the nearly 200-pound Golden Boot on campus for the fourth straight season. And what erstwhile SEC champion wouldn’t prefer a return trip to sunny Tampa to the prospect of a 56th AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis?

But despite what players and coaches say in public, simple pride and retaliation for a perceived slight can sometimes be the powerful motivation of all. In public, it’s foolish for coaches to admit they pay attention to Vegas and all the media chatter. But in the privacy of their locker room, it’s smart to use any perceived disrespect as extra fuel for competitive engines that may be running on low.

LSU won’t become Arkansas’ first SEC victim of the Bret Bielema era without a nasty fight. Expect another classic finish in the conference’s most heart-stopping rivalry.

Evin’s Scale of SEC Trophy Game One-Sidededness

Before 2014*, there were five trophies circulating in and among the sweaty, intraconference climes of SEC football country. Each one represents a decades-old rivalry, with LSU-Arkansas the baby of the bunch. What their Golden Boot lacks in tradition, though, has more than been made up for in sheer entertainment value. The below scale, based on final score differences, ranks the SEC trophy rivalries on a scale from most consistently entertaining (1) to most likely to cause a re-reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter for lack of anything better to do (5). Winners are in parentheses.

The Bellagio of sports trophies.

The Bellagio of sports trophies.

1. LSU-Arkansas (Golden Boot)

 

Year Point Differential
2013 4 (LSU)
2012 7 (LSU)
2011 24 (LSU)
2010 8 (UA)
2009 3 (LSU)
2008 1 (UA)
2007 2 (UA)
2006 5 (LSU)
2005 2 (LSU)

Total Point Differential: 56

Per-Game Average: 6.2

2. LSU/Ole Miss (Magnolia Bowl)

 

Year Point Differential
2014 3 (LSU)
2013 3 (Ole Miss)
2012 6 (LSU)
2011 49 (LSU)
2010 7 (LSU)
2009 2 (Ole Miss)
2008 17 (Ole Miss)
2007 17 (LSU)
2006 3 (LSU)

Total Point Differential: 90

Per-Game Average: 10


3. Florida/Georgia (Okefenokee Oar)

 

Year Point Differential
2014 18 (UF)
2013 3 (UG)
2012 8  (UG)
2011 4  (UG)
2010 3 (UF)
2009 24 (UF)
2008 39 (UF)
2007 12  (UG)
2006 7 (UF)

Total Point Differential: 118

Per-Game Average: 13.1

4. Ole Miss/Mississippi State (Golden Egg)

 

Year Point Differential
2013 7 (MSU)
2012 17 (Ole Miss)
2011 28 (MSU)
2010 8 (MSU)
2009 14 (MSU)
2008 45 (Ole Miss)
2007 3 (MSU)
2006 3 (Ole Miss)
2005 16 (MSU)

 

Total Point Differential: 138

Per-Game Average: 15.3

5. Alabama/Auburn** (Foy-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy)

Year Point Differential
2013 6 (AU)
2012 49 (UA)
2011 28 (UA)
2010 1 (AU)
2009 5 (UA)
2008 36 (UA)
2007 7 (AU)
2006 7 (AU)
2005 10 (AU)

Total Point Differential: 149

Per-Game Average: 16.6

*The new Texas A&M-South Carolina and Missouri-South Carolina series involve trophies, too. Which is nice. But for membership in this particular club, you need to have been clashin’ man horns for at least nine years running.

** Yes, the 2010 and 2013 Iron Bowls were awesomely entertaining. But Crimson Tide routs in 2008, 2011 and 2012 have made the series’ games on the whole the least consistently compelling.


As Razorback Past Wanes, War Memorial Stadium’s Soccer Future Should Wax

Arkansas and Michigan became U.S. states during the same year It's time they do something else together,

Arkansas and Michigan became U.S. states during the same year It’s time they do something else together,

A few months ago, more than 100,000 people flooded into the University of Michigan to watch Real Madrid play Manchester United. A U.S. soccer match attendance record was shattered. Given this sport’s now well-proven and inexorable climb up the American sports popularity food chain, why shouldn’t Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium  consider hosting pro or national team soccer matches?

This is the question I recently posed to a few War Memorial officials for an Arkansas Times feature story. I learned they have already begun preliminary discussions with some professional soccer clubs*. A primary obstacle, assistant stadium manager Jerry Cohen told me, is that the stadium field’s four corners, near the goal lines, are appropriate for football but aren’t wide enough for high-level soccer. “We would have to take out a couple rows of seats to make a regulation soccer stadium in there,” stadium manager Charlie Staggs said. “Such a change made to the seats on the east and west sides would cost at least $500,000, he added. “Later on, I think this is a question the commission might want to look at so that we could get some high-profile soccer events in here since soccer is getting so popular now.”

Making this investment and aggressively pursuing elite soccer matches would provide a shot in the arm for War Memorial and the city of Little Rock. The 55,000-person stadium, which just 15 years ago annually hostied three Razorback home games, is now down to one a year. That could well drop to zero after 2018 when its current contract with the UA expires. It needs major sports events to help fill the void more than ever, and soccer is as sure of a bet as a growth industry here as gets. Arkansas’ Hispanic population is quickly growing, and its teenage and young adult sports fans are far more likely than older generations to tune into Premier League soccer along with college football on Saturdays.

War Memorial’s size is a deterrent for the world’s biggest clubs, but for some elite organizations the state’s location should help offset War Memorial’s relatively limited seating.  FC Dallas, a Major League Soccer power, is less than three hours from Arkansas’ border and could significantly expand its fan base in Arkansas with a couple timely pre-season appearances. It helps that one of Arkansas’ brightest soccer talents, Thomas Roberts, trains in FC Dallas’ youth development system. If in a few years the club ultimately signs Roberts – who in September captained a Rush Select team that knocked off a Dutch powerhouse Ajax junior club – then the Little Rock native would spark additional statewide interest.

Similarly, just three hours from the state’s northern border, a $75 million-plus National Training and Coaching Development Center to serve as the home base for the U.S. Soccer Federation and its national teams will be built in the next couple of years. It will also attract top-flight junior teams from across the world. Don’t expect the U.S.’s senior national team to play in Little Rock with so many larger venues available, but a game between college-age junior teams – especially those including the Mexican national program – could still draw 50,000+ to War Memorial.

What do you think? As War Memorial’s Razorback football glory days fade, can futbol help it remain a major sports venue?

* Cohen couldn’t recall the names of the pro soccer clubs or if they were in the MLS or not. Staggs didn’t recall ever preliminary discussions with any soccer clubs.

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