It’s official-ish: the UA Little Rock Trojans are moving on to more appreciative pastures. It seems a shabby way to commemorate thirty years of glorious Sun Belt Membership – the Trojans joined the SBC in 1991, winning the basketball conference championship twice (2011 and 2016) and a baseball championship in 2011. During those halcyon days, Trojans versus the Red Wolves became a bit of an in-state rivalry, with neither program every really catching fire, save that 2016 Chris Beard season for the Trojans, and the 2017 Grant McCasland season for the Red Wolves.
Those years aside, the rivalry has been a rivalry for the sake of rivalry. It isn’t sleepy, but it isn’t intense. I often attend Red Wolves vs Trojan games when A-State visits Little Rock. Jack Stephens Arena (a well-appointed venue that sells beer) is generally split 50/50 with Red Wolves fans on rivalry night, with the loser bearing the mild and good-natured joshing of the victor.
The Trojans moving to the Ohio Valley Conference won’t likely eliminate the rivalry. Red Wolves versus Trojans should remain an excellent non-conference game. Hoop but no harm. But to the uninitiated, it may seem strange that UA Little Rock is leaving the Sun Belt.
I can’t say “it’s complicated.” The Sun Belt features two non-football schools on its menu – UA Little Rock and UT Arlington. In the modern era when football has become and even more obnoxious king, these “sports boutique” universities are finding life a bit more comfortable in peer-resource schools. When the Sun Belt added four more football-driven universities to the mix, catering to the Mavericks and Trojans seemed superfluous, especially given that the four new members brought decent baseball and basketball with them
Little Rock attempted to put together a football program. In the process, the administration discovered an alarming truth – football is pricey. For a Group of Five team, it costs around ten million bucks a year to field a football team. You hope to have tickets sales and broadcast revenue to pay the bills, plus endorsements, a bodybag game or two, and some deep pocketed alums to grease the skids. The costs are rising. Coaching salaries are obnoxiously high – the highest paid government employees in nearly every state are football coaches. In addition, you need a venue, a marching band, scholarships for players and a matching number of scholarships for female athletic programs.
In the end, Little Rock launched a wrestling program.
I’ll miss Little Rock as a Sun Belt Rival. I’ll even miss the Farm Bureau Classic Trophy, which was given to the winner of the rivalry – but only to the winning team played in Little Rock. What a weird trophy!
The Sun Belt is on the verge of becoming a one Trojan league, and that’s okay. We’ll be seeing plenty of UA Little Rock in the future.
PHOTO CREDITS: Belong to me