The Game is ten years in the making (according to me)

In 2011, the Red Wolves elevated Hugh Freeze from offensive coordinator to head coach, and Freeze rewarded the architects of that promotion with a ten win season and a bowl game. The season was a flashpoint of evolution for Arkansas State athletics, which until that time had been largely ignored by the state’s media and by the majority of its citizens. The Red Wolves were plotted on an upward trajectory.

In those days, talk of a Razorbacks versus A-State football game was mostly the stuff of chat room arguments and dismissive, close-ended comments. Arkansas is SEC. Arkansas is bigger, faster and better equipped. Arkansas is the flagship university, and quite frankly, you have forgotten your station, sir. Not only will it never happen, it shouldn’t happen.

Ten years later, it has happened. How on Earth did we get here?

“I think time, evolution of the programs, changes in administration, and the current state of college football all led to the scheduling of this game,” said A-State System President Chuck Welch. “Discussions have occurred for the last few years, but the schedules finally came together and allowed for this historic opportunity. I really think the credit goes to Terry Mohajir and Hunter Yurachek for their vision and persistence.”

Dr. Welch is right, of course. Evolution, admin changes and scheduling played key roles. Mohajir and Yurachek, both demigods of the Group of Five, certainly saw the value of The Game. “Changes in administration” is also crucial. Dr. Welch, a graduate of the University of Arkansas, enjoys a curious vantage point of being a legitimate citizen of both academic communities.

“I think it is a wonderful thing for our fan bases and our entire state,” said Welch, “I know a lot of people have waited many years to see this matchup, and I look forward to being able to showcase our great state.”

How’d we get here? It wasn’t sorcery. It wasn’t legislation. It certainly wasn’t an appeal to our better angels. It was, in fact, a recipe of circumstances and actions with a ten-year boil time. Let’s break them down.

Arkansas State Pulled Itself From Medicocrity’s Gravity

For decades, Arkansas fans were right: Arkansas State could not compete with the Razorbacks on the gridiron, not even during the Hog’s worst seasons. But starting with the fine recruiting job of Steve Roberts and culminating with the excellence of Hugh Freeze, A-State began to see themselves taking a seat at college football’s more lucrative tables. But truth be told, Freeze fell into the university’s lap. What followed would take planning, vision and determination.

Terry Mohajir Was The Right Rottweiler at the Right Time

To say Mohajir “bleeds scarlet” is underselling the intensity of his platelets. A former A-State football player himself, Mohajir put into motion a round of fundraising and construction that the football program desperately needed. Working with mega-donor Johnny Allison, Mohajir oversaw construction of the new indoor practice facility, the aggressive remodeling of the stadium, and the Centennial Bank Athletic Operations Center – all within the span of a decade. These improvements were conjured into existence by Mohajir’s bullheaded force of will, proving to Arkansas that the Red Wolves were invested in offering the state a pigskin alternative.

Terry Mohajir during a pep rally in Little Rock, December 2011

ESPN Terraformed College Football into a Cash-Driven Hellscape of Greed

Too much? I’m not sold. About ten years ago, ESPN began buying up rights to college and pro football, and then marketed their new toys with a volcanic rage. No longer was it enough to broadcast a couple games a week on Saturday. ESPN had loads of content, and the public had an appetite for it. Suddenly, even a low-profile program like Arkansas State was receiving eyeballs nationwide. Arkansans previously exposed only to Razorbacks football were now granted a dose of Red Wolves, too. People outside of the cherry-lined offices of the UofA athletic department began to wonder why the two teams couldn’t compete against one another.

As it Turns Out, In-State Rivalries Advertise Themselves

Colorado vs Colorado State. Michigan vs Michigan State. The Egg Bowl. The Iron Bowl. These games sell tickets and garner big TV audiences no matter how poorly the teams involved play. Meanwhile, Arkansas seemed like the girl standing in the corner at the high school dance. The Razorbacks were truly without a heated rival – despite their fans’ rancor for LSU. When the SEC attempted to force a rivalry with Missouri, it was met with snickers and a truly obnoxious trophy. Red Wolves vs Hogs is a pre-packaged, made-for-TV rivalry that was beginning to become too lucrative to dismiss.

Dave Van Horn Thought The Policy Was Stupid

Only in Arkansas can a college baseball coach have so much influence over a school’s football schedule. However, Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn is among the most respected voices in all of amateur athletics. When he groaned about scheduling out-of-state opponents when perfectly good in-state programs were so readily available, it opened the argument that a Red Wolves/Hog rivalry made the most important sense of all – financial sense. It’s no accident that baseball broke the membrane when the Razorbacks hosted the UALR Trojans in 2018. Van Horn was the maestro.

Hunter Yurachek Laughs At Your Silly Arguments

Former Arkansas AD Jeff Long was a creature of The Policy, and he was determined to protect the Razorback’s monopoly at all costs. God rest his soul, the author of the Policy is gone, and the new AD wasn’t particularly swayed by the the planks of the Policy. Hunter Yurachek boldly put the past aside, knowing full well that the penalty could enormous.

The courage behind Yurachek’s decision is considerable. There are plenty of old-school Broyles acolytes who have totally bought-in on the “We have nothing to gain” argument. Broyles was a Hog since 1958. For Yurachek – an outsider from the University of Houston – to ball the Policy into a wad and chuck it into the Arkansas River is significant.

The Group of Five Got Too Good

Ten years ago, a P5/G5 matchup was an automatic bodybag game for the Power Five. Arkansas State did collected a victory over Texas A&M in 2008, but for the most part, rarely did a G5 program rise to the level of its P5 antagonist. Today, beating Power Five programs is routine for the G5. More importantly, the games are good. You can no longer argue that a game between a Power 5 and a Group of Five program is a dull, lopsided affair. Hell, the Razorbacks have recently been defeated by North Texas, Toledo, WKU, Colorado State and ULM. If you’re going to get beaten by a G5, why not make it a program Arkansans care about?

The Social Media of the People Overthrew the Totalitarian Regimes

We had the Twitter and the Facebook in 2011, but its influence grew equal to the Power of Greyskull over the decade that followed. Even the most tech-deaf athletic department administrators began to see the surge of support for The Game. And it wasn’t just local. National pundits openly questioned The Policy (even though most didn’t even know a Policy was in place). Simply put, fans suddenly had a voice that was louder than buying tickets and merchandise. What the people want, the people get.

The Fans Want It

Over the decade, I’ve seen a curious phenomena where A-State fans have grown less interested in The Game, while Razorback fans have become more supportive. For Red Wolves, the fans have found their identity with Arkansas State, and after 100 years of snubs, the question has become, “What’s in it for us?” For the Razorbacks fans I encounter, they’ve seen the rise of the “program out East” and are intrigued. Furthermore, paying a program like North Texas north of a million bucks seems gratuitous even for an SEC program. Why not keep the money within the state?

As for me, I launched the A-State Fan Rules persona partly in an effort to prod the University of Arkansas to do the right think and play in-state programs. Like many Red Wolves’ fans, my appetite for The Game has faded as we’ve pounded out our own identity with the acknowledgment of the state’s “flagship university.” But I confess, I’m stoked for September 6, 2025. I honestly. believe we all are.


CORRECTIONS: An earlier version placed Hunter Yuracheck at the University of Tulsa, and identified Frank Broyles as a “cradle Hog.” Both have been corrected, and those responsible have been beaten with shaft of bamboo.