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Indians dream of battling 'big brother'




JONESBORO — The University of Arkansas doesn’t want anything to do with its little brother in the northeast corner of the state.

But that doesn’t keep Arkansas State from wanting something to do with the Razorbacks.

When asked whom the Indians most want to play if there was just one team on their football schedule or throughout the land, ASU players responded overwhelmingly with the same answer.

Their response? The Arkansas Razorbacks.

“If I could pick one team, any team, it would be Arkansas,” sophomore quarterback Corey Leonard said. “If we could play anybody, it would be Arkansas just because a lot of us are from Arkansas. A lot of us that aren’t have kind of been molded into the rivalry there and we don’t even play them as a rival.”

Leonard isn’t even from Arkansas. He’s from Covington, La., but he shares the same passion for playing the UA as the majority of his teammates. Many of Arkansas State’s players are products of the state of Arkansas, so playing the Razorbacks seems only natural to them.

Junior tight end David Johnson, who is from Pine Bluff and played for Pine Bluff High School, said he thinks the University of Arkansas is afraid to play ASU.

After all, the Razorbacks’ 2007 schedule includes three Sun Belt Conference football teams — Troy, North Texas and Florida International. Meanwhile, ASU has never played the UA in football and they have only met a few times in other sports.

“I think they feel like they have got control over the state when it comes to football, but if we ended up beating them they wouldn’t know what to do,” Johnson said. “I feel it isn’t fair. They are probably just scared of us a little bit.”

Arkansas State athletic director Dean Lee said one of the first issues he took upon himself when he accepted the ASU job was to meet with now-retiring Arkansas AD Frank Broyles. The purpose was to request a game between ASU and Arkansas in any and all sports.

Lee was employed by the UA as the Vice President of the Razorback Foundation from 1988 through 1995, helping raise funds for the school’s athletic program. So Broyles accommodated his request and listened to him, but that request was politely denied.

“I made a request initially when I started here five years ago,” Lee said. “(He was) very cordial. He’s been extremely beneficial and helpful to me in my career and having worked over there, having an opportunity to get a visit with him, I’m sure it was based on our previous relationship. I asked him on behalf of our fans, alumni and student-athletes that we would like to play the University of Arkansas. He said it’s their policy not to and I said I understand that.”

A short and sweet “No” is how Arkansas has addressed playing in-state opposition for years. The UA has a standard policy not to play schools inside its own borders.

Some Arkansas State football players think the Arkansas administration is out of touch with the times when it comes to the two schools meeting on the athletic field, court, gymnasium or wherever. But almost all agree that playing the University of Arkansas is at the top of their list of who they’d like to go toe-to-toe with.

Not even Notre Dame, USC or Texas would be bigger.

“It has nothing to do with their prestige or anything that they have done in the past,” ASU free safety Khayyam Burns said. “It’s a rivalry. I come from Fort Smith Northside High School and that’s like not playing (Forth Smith) Southside. It’s ridiculous. It makes no sense. Everyone else in the country does it except for us.”

There was a movement in the 1980s by the Arkansas Legislature to try to force the two schools into playing one another. A bill was drawn up and introduced by the late state Rep. Jerry Bookout in 1987, but was squashed in committee and never reached the House floor.

A legislator from Sherwood attempted a similar bill in 2001 to force ASU and Arkansas along with other in-state universities, to begin athletic competition. That bill, too, was shot down in committee.

Arkansas State football players believe it would be a great game, and it’s time for the UA to change its out-of-date policy.

“I would like to play Arkansas,” Johnson added. “Everybody else gets to play in-state rivals and we feel like we are the only ones that don’t get to. I feel like that would be a really hyped-up game more than anything else.”

Arkansas State strong safety Tyrell Johnson sees both sides of the issue.

As an Indian, Johnson would love to play the Razorbacks in a football game. Johnson’s mother and father were both All-American athletes at the University of Arkansas in the 1980s — Alvin Robertson for the Razorback basketball team and Patricia Bell for the women’s track team.

Johnson isn’t torn by being an Indian while his parents were both Razorbacks, but he does have a different perspective.

“Arkansas would be a great state-rivalry game, but a lot of people — their head people — don’t want that game to go on because you have to think about what they have to lose,” Johnson said. “We have everything to gain and they have everything they to lose, so I can understand why they don’t want us playing them. It’s just a business. It’s not that Arkansas is scared as a team. It’s just that it’s a business with the people up top.”

Johnson could have personal issues with the Razorbacks, considering they offered him a scholarship, he says, but pulled it at the last minute when they received a commitment from another in-state recruit. Since he’s a senior and the Razorbacks aren’t on the schedule, he looks at it realistically.

“I would love to play them, but it’s not going to happen for me, so I guess I can just kill that dream,” Johnson said.

Arkansas State football coach Steve Roberts, who was raised just outside of Little Rock, will hardly touch the subject.

“I don’t think about that ever,” Roberts said. “That’s out of my control, so we are going to worry about the ones that are on the schedule, not the ones that we don’t have an opportunity to play. ... If they want to play that game then we will prepare to play that game.”

There is at least one Indian who prefers playing another foe over Arkansas, and he will receive his wish this year.

Senior defensive lineman Prince Hickman, who is from Dallas, has always wanted to play the University of Texas. Arkansas State opens this season in Austin against the fourth-ranked Longhorns.

But even Hickman admits he’d like a game with Arkansas, too.

“I’m sorry for them boys (his teammates) and I hope their dream comes true for them next year or whenever but I’m from Texas and I’ve always wanted to play Texas,” Hickman said. “I would love to play Arkansas, too, because Arkansas is always talking noise. I know Darren McFadden and all of them. I have chilled with them, (Marcus) Monk and all those guys, but I would still want to play Texas first.”

So while the University of Arkansas won’t play in-state competition, Arkansas State has found other high-dollar games. This year’s schedule includes Texas, Tennessee and Southern Mississippi.

Lee said ASU has finalized a deal with the University of Nebraska set for 2009 and a $750,000 paycheck. He is working on a contract with Penn State in 2008 that would have Arkansas State opening the season at Texas A&M and Penn State in back-to-back weeks.

Lee admits he would love to cut a deal with the Razorbacks.

“Absolutely — I think it would be beneficial for both institutions and specifically for the state of Arkansas,” Lee said.

Arkansas State’s players agree that change is imminent and one of these days the Razorbacks and Indians will meet for the first time in football.

“I know sooner or later that we are going to play,” Burns said “It can’t go on forever — Arkansas not playing Arkansas State. There’s just too much tension building for the game not to happen. I believe the game will happen. I don’t know when but it will eventually happen.

“I would love to play in that game.”



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This appears to be the same crap, that was offered up by U of Kentucky fans & alum to keep from playing the University of Louisville in basketball for many, many years. Ultimately, the NCAA finally managed to set up a game in 1983 duirng the tourney, won by the Cardinals in overtime. After that it was amazing how quickly Kentucky could find room on its schedule to play Louisville. The Kentucky - Louisville games (both football and basketball) continue to be a great rivalry - although the Louisville - W. VA football game is quickly overwhelming the Kentucky game on the U of L football schedule. Good luck with this as there is little that the NCAA can do with this mess - thanks to no play-off.

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