Sports Column: J.R. and Henry on UA's facilities | Rock Candy

Friday, April 21, 2006

Sports Column: J.R. and Henry on UA's facilities

Posted on Fri, Apr 21, 2006 at 9:17 PM

Arkansas has built it.  So why won’t they come?

In 1989, America became enamored with the line “if you build it, he will come” from the popular baseball film "Field of Dreams." Cities and universities adopted the quote and converted it into development slogans: “if you build it, they will come,” referring to the construction of new buildings and the expansion of old ones. From the looks of things on the Hill, the Razorback athletic department appears to have taken hold of the slogan as well.

The indelible mark athletic director Frank Broyles will leave on Razorback athletics is the awesome upgrade and expansion of the athletic facilities. Broyles will be remembered for bringing Razorback athletic facilities into the 21st century.

In addition to this legacy, however, and underneath the amenities, Broyles has exposed his road map for football success: if you build state-of-the-art football facilities, recruits will come. 

Assume the one thing Houston Nutt needed to build a championship-caliber program was a new stadium. The old Razorback Stadium did seem more fitting for a school in the Sun Belt Conference than for one in the SEC. So, after some hand holding and old-fashioned salesmanship, Broyles got the go ahead (and the financing) to renovate the stadium to put it on par with the power programs of the SEC and ahead of almost all of the programs in the Big 12. When construction began, Nutt had, presumably, the missing piece of the championship puzzle. 

Armed with an impressive new stadium, recruiting should have been a breeze with Nutt’s rumored Jerry Maguire-like talent in the living room. After all, he had a Cotton Bowl and a win over Texas already under his belt.

So why, after this multimillion-dollar expansion, is the football team getting worse? 

(More after the jump) 

What Broyles didn’t realize when he ordered the stadium expansion and football spending spree is that the program couldn’t become successful with facilities alone. Success requires a coach who can take the facilities and sell the school’s advantage to recruits who can win.  Unfortunately, Nutt and his staff have been unable to upgrade recruiting to match the facilities.    

This past season, before the addition of Gus Malzahn as offensive coordin Arkansas was on track to bring in a recruiting class that ranked somewhere around 70th in the country (in the bottom 58 percent of all programs).  Even with the addition of the nation’s top quarterback and a four-star wide receiver, the Hogs, according to Rivals.com, still rank 27th.

But more importantly, in the SEC, Arkansas was ranked ninth, behind Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Ole Miss. That's right: behind even Ole Miss!

No one is surprised who has followed recruiting, since over the past five seasons, Nutt has pulled in classes that rank seventh or eighth overall in the SEC (again, according to Rivals).  In 2002, Arkansas ranked seventh.  In 2003, eighth, 2004, seventh, and eighth in 2005.

And if you’re one of those fans who think recruiting rankings are voodoo science, then simply measure Arkansas’ recruiting ranking by examining the team’s success on the field.   
In 2002, Arkansas won nine games, and finished in a tie for fourth best record in the SEC.  In 2003, Arkansas won eight games, seventh in the league.  Five wins in 2004, tied for seventh, and four last year with a tie for ninth in the league. 

See a pattern? It’s pretty simple, either Nutt and his staff aren’t recruiting the players needed to win, or they’re not coaching them.

Some say it’s hard to recruit to Fayetteville, and others blame a mysterious “cloud” left by an NCAA investigation. But those are excuses for poor performance and not solutions, and neither is convincing. The “cloud” argument is particularly amusing as the facts above demonstrate that Nutt’s recruiting is the same most every year, with cloud or without.  

Players want more than facilities. Players want championships. Arkansas isn’t winning, and they haven’t been a factor in the SEC since Nutt’s first year (the 2002 SEC championship game appearance came courtesy of Alabama’s probation and Georgia was never threatened). As a result, it’s difficult to recruit, particularly when SEC West foes LSU, Auburn and Alabama are winning and doing so consistently.

With facilities like those in Fayetteville, it’s hard to accept losing. After all, Nutt has convinced many of the statewide media that he can win at Arkansas. But his recruiting classes over the past several seasons don’t offer much hope, and neither does his record.

“If you build it, they will come.”  No, Arkansas fans, they won’t. You have to win.

J.R. and Henry, tired of the same ol' song and dance from the regular statewide columnists covering Arkansas sports, have decided to offer their opinion. And it appears twice a week on the Little Rocking blog.

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