This is, by the author's own semi-meticulous and possibly accurate numerology, the 100th edition of Pearls About Swine. Having penned this column for 2 and a half solid years now and received a surprising degree and depth of feedback, I'd like to first offer my humble gratitude to those who have read Pearls even once or twice, and my undying appreciation to those who are more regular readers. It's been a joy doing this, even if at times the subject matter hasn't lent itself to a lot of chipper reflectiveness.
This de facto centennial, then, is as good a time as any to put forth a manifesto of sorts. It's a minor benchmark, a new year, and with the Razorback basketball squad dutifully closing out non-conference play at 11-2 on Saturday night, there's no time like the present to dissect some fundamentals about Arkansas sports coverage at large. The tangled mass of social media, sports-centered blogs and message boards have further complicated the coverage and exposure of amateur athletics in a state that already had a quirky history in that area. Hence, it's apropos to throw a few tenets of Pearls out there for consumption and possible rejection:
1. Yes, this column in moniker, form and function serves to provide a patently biased Hog fan's perspective on proceedings in Arkansas Razorback sports, primarily the big-ticket ones. That said, I am a native of this state, and have always been a little perplexed about any manufactured resentment among the universities and programs herein.
Case in point: I've got nothing but cheery feelings about Arkansas State's recent rise to respectability. After finishing off an 8-5 season with another bowl win in Mobile on Sunday night, the Red Wolves again cast aside head coaching upheaval and made John Thompson something of an interim coaching legend: the well-traveled defensive whiz has won as many bowl games in the span of a year as the last four Razorback coaches have won over the last decade. For ASU to thrive in its niche in the Sun Belt is quite alright, and doesn't connote any sort of threat to the Hogs' status as the breadwinner in these parts. Inasmuch as I do not think the two schools should square off on the football field by way of executive or legislative mandate, I also believe firmly these entities can coexist happily and thrive independently without rancor.
2. This will not be a space to needlessly wax blustery about conference superiority. Arkansas joined the SEC 22 years ago and has exactly zero football titles — conference or national — to show for it. The association's symbiosis is a ruthless one: The Hogs have reaped fiscal rewards from being part of this league, but so has every other institution that comprises the 14-team behemoth.
It flies in the face of every primordial instinct within me to suddenly root for Auburn in the final BCS-era title game just because my preferred team goes up against them annually. I don't like Auburn. I don't care that its coach hails from this state any more than I care that our current coach hails from Iowa. Weeks ago, I openly cursed the entire lot of them for feigning injuries and such. Auburn winning the league's eighth title in a row (the Tigers, to my delight, did not execute the last of a season full of miracles) would not have meant that my hapless little 3-9, 0-8 team from the Northwest corner was suddenly going to thrive.
Arkansas has occasionally pecked on the glass ceiling and seems to have paid dearly for it every time, usually by way of arcane misfortune. When the football team trends upward, there's a Stoernover, an officiating gaffe or a coaching fiasco on the other side, ready to intervene. Maybe it's a special kind of aneurysm being a Razorback fan, but I don't need to hasten my own, certain coronary by pulling for a rival. Maybe my wiring's faulty, but there's something odious about the whole notion of conference allegiance.
3. The health of Hog athletics is still very much measured in the win column. People are pissed off about the football team ending the season with various fail-markers: nine-game losing streak that will likely reach double figures, first winless SEC slate, back-to-back 52-0 slayings by Bama...and all of that goes back to the number on the left side of the hyphen. When the fan base is at its most feverish, none of the fury sources from ticket prices, stadium debates, player suspensions or staff changes.
Pearls began in the fall of 2011 by chronicling the achievements of a Top 5 football team. Cautious optimism for a basketball team under a fresh regime followed, and the baseball team's surge toward the precipice of a national title gave everyone a little pep after the Petrino ugliness sullied the springtime mood. From the summer of 2012 forward, though, it's been harder to apply that loving sheen because every program is in transition. And that gets us to...
4. If the Hogs get back to winning, these next 100 columns get a helluva lot more bubbly.