David Pryor's legacy as a genial, bright Arkansas statesman is beyond reproach. His service as executive (governor from 1975 to 1979) was marked by progressiveness, and he championed tax fairness and the rights of the elderly through his impassioned, lengthy tenure in Congress.
Pryor didn't recede from view completely when he opted to retire from the U.S. Senate, and most notably of late, he's been the University of Arkansas System's most vocal trustee with respect to the controversial decision to expand Reynolds Razorback Stadium. His points were not without merit; summarized generally, Pryor felt the university was committing to a $160 million project without the general student body's best interests in mind, a meritorious posture to be sure.
Statistically, this publication crunched and disseminated the numbers that suggest disparately more money will be spent on the average football-playing student than the others on campus. The reality, though, is that the university also expects to crest the $100 million revenue mark in athletics, and then there's the newfound course of stability and pragmatism within the program — let's be honest, this expansion isn't some hyper-ambitious effort to set national attendance records — that augurs that the new seats will fill, the revenue stream will only keep roaring, and the hand-wringing will mostly subside because the university's national profile will be enhanced.
It's still betting on the come, natch. Bret Bielema followed a clunker debut campaign of 3-9, 0-8, with a respectable 15-11, 7-9 aggregate, two emphatic bowl wins included, over the next two seasons, showing quick strides for program that cries out for some degree of notable equilibrium after fatigue with Houston Nutt, teased but fruitless vows from Bobby Petrino, and a single cratering year with John L. Smith at the helm.
That 15-11 mark still contains some puzzling defeats and some oh-so-close moments that keep Hog fans at their always appreciable distance from committing full-bore to the program. Yes, it's a fickle fan base, and you saw that in great, unflattering detail last November. Had the Hogs managed a chip-shot field goal against Mississippi State on a raucous and chilly night in November, the team would have pushed its overall record to 7-4 and likely nudged its way back into the Top 25. Instead, the bitter taste of that loss robbed the senior players of what they deserved six days later against Missouri, a brave and happy crowd ready to vaporize a downtrodden, manufactured rival to boost their bowl seeding. It was evident that conditions and the Thanksgiving holiday itself had some impact on the poor attendance in the 28-3 rout of the Tigers, but moreover, a lot of fans simply hadn't shaken off the Bulldog hangover.
That's another reason why Pryor could've championed his cause, but he clearly wanted to steer clear of athletics and offer a more reasoned view from the academician perspective he's long held. But it would have been totally fair to say, if a 6-5 team plays a 5-6 team on the Friday after Thanksgiving and half the seats appear quite empty, what exactly are we building up to?
In the 15 years since the last stadium expansion, I've seen all manner of games on the Hill, everything from the loud and imposing clashes with the likes of Alabama and Ole Miss, and those are the days and nights you feel like stadium expansion is absolutely merited. When the place is thundering with the stomps and hollers of the red-and-white throngs hanging over railings and people are embracing complete strangers over tenor-altering plays, it's an inspiring thing to see. To be sure, that kind of emotion is what fuels everything in this part of the world, sometimes a bit ill-advisedly.
If Arkansas can start consistently drawing crowds of 80,000-plus to games once an expansion project is completed, that's a great thing. In fact, it seems almost absurd that a Razorback home tilt couldn't easily outdraw, say, a record-setting Arkansas Derby. With so much invested in the present and future of the football program, and expectations building, the timing for all of this is generally about the best it could be. Petrino could've possibly helped facilitate this kind of expansion after he won the 2012 Cotton Bowl, but fate dealt a different hand there and instead of lobbying for the program to the tune of millions, the coach was scrambling to retain employment after lying about thousands spent on a would-be mistress.