In December 2009, a Virgina sports radio talk show host reminded his state’s governor of a popular in-state basketball competition from decades ago. Basketball fans in Virginia had told the host they wanted to see that tournament return, and he passed their message on to Governor Bob McDonnell.
The message, evidentally, was well received.
In August 2011, the governor announced the creation of a December doubleheader between four in-state Division I basketball programs. Not only will the event, scheduled for two years, benefit sports fans in that state, but it will help a good cause. Proceeds go to Virginia’s Food Banks, which are especially in need around Christmas.
Virginians saw an opportunity to capitalize on the recent NCAA Tournament successes of some of their D1 programs, and help the hungry while at it, and they struck.
So should Arkansans.
Never before has Arkansas had a better opportunity to form an event between four Division I basketball programs. For many years, Arkansas’ only four D1 programs included its flagship university – UA-Fayetteville. Forget the Razorbacks scheduling in-state competition, however. That policy’s origins, and arguments for and against, have already gotten plenty of cyber-ink. No reason to spill more here, as this post focuses on the other programs]
But when the University of Central Arkansas became a full-fledged Division 1 member in 2010, UA-Fayetteville was no longer a necessary participant in a theoretical competition between the state’s top programs. And it’s UCA’s athletic director, Brad Teague, who strongly advocates scheduling such a competition: “I think it’s something certainly all the [local] basketball coaches talk about and think would be good for the state to do.”
Finally, it’s here.
The week we wash from our eyes the residue of an off-season deluge of stories touching on the fact that, yes, Arkansas State’s football head coach Hugh Freeze was depicted in the The Blind Side, one of 2009′s surprise hits.
That movie briefly shows the role Freeze played in the development of Michael Oher, who went from a homeless and traumatized boy to first round NFL draft pick. Freeze coached him at a private high school in Memphis, soon after Oher had been adopted by a caring woman and her family.
But a central story-line this week concerns the new identity ASU’s program has adopted under Freeze, and all the new fans its high-powered spread offense could win considering the unprecedented platform Saturday’s ASU-UCA game has been given.
As for the current fans, they’re already having plenty fun with the resurrection of this 95-year-old rivalry. It’s about time, too.
There are way too few games played between Division I programs in Arkansas, and kudos to the big wigs for making this one happen. I mean, what else besides heated in-state rivalry could inspire comparisons between UCA’s kicker to Frodo Baggins, or a recent Bears transfer to the Cheshire Cat? Something tells me Sun Belt opponent Florida Atlantic ain’t getting this kind of attention from the ASU faithful.
The game, to be played in Jonesboro, should be fun to watch. Going in, ASU holds advantages beyond its home field.
The school is a full-fledged member of the FBS (Division I-A) while UCA is an FCS (Division I-AA) program. ASU is allowed to grant scholarships to 85 players; UCA can give a maximum of 63 scholarships.
So, from a talent standpoint, ASU walks into this shootout with more ammunition.
Another problem for the the Bears: star senior quarterback Nathan Dick, a former Razorback who had been playing the best ball of his career early this season, was knocked out of Saturday’s loss to Sam Houston State with a concussion.
His status against ASU is questionable.
If Dick can’t play, or isn’t effective, then sophomore Wynrick Smothers steps in. “~Im me~”, Smothers declares on his My Space profile, and indeed if Smothers is to be himself on Saturday, ASU will see a better athlete and more dangerous running threat than Dick. But the game will also be the inexperienced Smothers’ first start.
There is capable talent surrounding the quarterbacks, including running back Jackie Hinton (who is recovering from a hamstring injury) and wunderkind wide receiver Jesse Grandy, who starred at Ole Miss last year. An ankle injury kept star linebacker Frank Newsome from playing Saturday but he’s expected to return against ASU.
A final plus for the Bears, this one psychological: the last time these teams played, in 1997, UCA barely lost to ASU 36-35. UCA was then Division II and allowed only 36 scholarships for its football players.
So, yes, it walks into this match-up with significantly more talent.
But that should be offset by another ASU advantage. With its statewide broadcast, this game presents a perfect opportunity for Hugh Freeze to elevate his local reputation from “the coach who was in that Sandra Bullock movie” to “offensive mastermind” and in the process open doors to some of Arkansas’ better high school recruits. To take advantage of this exposure, look for Freeze to throw most – if not all – of his playbook at the Bears.
My prediction: ASU 48, UCA 28
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