Nick Cole/SEC Country
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema

Arkansas sports and the media: strange bedfellows

Eric Bolin

With your bacon, have some Hogs for Breakfast. It’s SEC Country’s weekday column and roundup on all things Arkansas Razorbacks. Opinion, numbers, inane babble and more! And now with ironic exclamation points. There is no place like it on the Web.

I sat down to write this piece Thursday night thinking I had a pretty good handle on what was going to be typed. I went about things how I usually do before actually writing, combing the Web for any stories related to Arkansas sports, making sure I didn’t miss anything.

Typically, I don’t. Most of the stuff I read throughout the day. I’m about the only person on the beat that reads literally every word from the “competition,” whatever that word even means in this industry. Local, regional, national — I track it down and give it a once-over.

Generally, there exists a theme, especially locally. Happy positivity. Even when things with Arkansas athletics are objectively bad, there’s a “Well, by golly, they’re working hard. And, boy, how about those grades!” air about things. Not always. Just commonly.

Bret Bielema-Jen Bielema-Arkansas football
Bret Bielema and his wife, Jen, with Arkansas AD Jeff Long (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Now, though, at least, Thursday night, I was thrown. That mentality isn’t around so much. Well, it is in some stories, but overall, it seems there’s a realization about the state of things. There exists a tendency to still overstate how good of shape football is in (relatively) and understate the same about the basketball team. Baseball? Well, click the link.

It made me happy, honestly. The truth is it’s a balancing act. It shouldn’t be. But it is. And it’s like that across mediums.

The easy way out is to be positive at all times, save only the very rare instances when the fans are irate. Confirmation bias is a real thing. People tend to want to read what they already believe. They believe Arkansas is fantastic or going to be fantastic, and it takes a lot to convince them otherwise. Writing stories that continue to foster this belief is a gold mine. Careers can be built on such an approach.

Another option is the friend approach. This business requires the developing of sources. Most of us are close to at least a few people within the athletic department. Part of the job. Some of us realize this is just the way it works. Some others think these relationships are real, long-term friendships. I suppose sometimes they can be. But it’s extraordinarily rare. Most of us aren’t going to a coach or player’s house for dinner and drinks. Been inside the house a time or two, perhaps. But not taking family vacations together.

Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of us, anyway.

My personal approach with the Arkansas athletic department is the same as my approach with anyone I meet on the street or a longtime friend, either one. Be honest with them. A guy has food in his teeth, tell him. Save him the embarrassment. Someone needs to be fired, say so. Joe Nobody in the next cubicle is having a hell of a month with sales? Buy him a beer. Dan Enos calling a great season? Give him some dap. After three years on the beat, most people know this about me. Call it as I see it for good, bad and in-between.

But it’s all the same. It really is. Fans partake in this somewhat, too. There are two worlds there.

One is “real” fans “support” the university. Often this takes the form of never saying anything negative about the team … except when, like above, it really deserves it.

The other is “real” fans “support” by being honest. When things hit the fan, they express their displeasure.

Technically, both are fine. I am personally big on letting people do what they want, especially in fandom. It’s not all that important to me as a fan of just two teams in all of sports and only barely qualified to call myself a “fan” of them at all.

When it comes to the media thing, though, I do take a little umbrage. How other people do their work reflects on me. I’ll go to bat for any fellow Arkansas media person against The Man (or in this case, the U of A) every single day in every single instance, no matter if I dig the way the person does their work or not.

So, let’s do it, my fellow journos and “personalities” who will only read this if someone tells them about it.

Let’s make the media great again!

Here’s why Hogs vs. Oklahoma State is and is not a big deal

Arkansas travels to my home state, the Sooner State, on Saturday to visit Oklahoma State, the last-place team in the Big 12. The game is part of the Big 12/SEC challenge, a challenge the Big 12 will almost certainly win.

The game is both important and not for Arkansas’ prospects for the NCAA tournament. In other words, you can make of it what you will. Best choice would be not to get too excited or too down, regardless of the outcome.

Arkansas-Mike Anderson
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson

If Arkansas wins, it’s a solid thing. The Razorbacks need as many victories as they can get. Oklahoma State also has the No. 43 RPI (as of Thursday night at 9:19 p.m. when this was written). It would be a quality win for Arkansas.

Except, it might not be by season’s end. The Cowboys are last in the Big 12 and the league is so tough, they might not escape the cellar. They should. They’re talented. And if they play well, they honestly might be on the cusp of an NCAA tournament berth themselves. But that’s a long, long way off. If things just stay the way they’ve been for Oklahoma State, the Cowboys are a sub-.500 team in the Big 12 by year’s end. Same as Texas, which Arkansas slipped past in the bulky part of the nonconference season.

At best, the game’s outcome is a toss-up. The teams are actually pretty equal talent-wise and the fact that it’s in Stillwater gives the Cowboys an advantage. But, honestly, concern yourself more with what Arkansas does after this game. Next week against Alabama is far, far more important than a Challenge game.

ICYMI

Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas

“I will kill you if you don’t bring prayer back to schools.”

Who knew that you couldn’t say things like that without punishment?

Apparently not Maverick Dean Bryan, who prosecutors recommend spend 12 to 18 months in prison after he threatened seven different Arkansas mayors with hanging. Bryan made several demands on the mayors, including school prayer and the 10 Commandments. My personal favorite graph is this one, per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

The letters sent to the mayors of Hope, Nashville, DeQueen, Ashdown, Lewisville, Prescott and Murfreesboro in 2015 also demanded they no longer honor the votes of anyone who is homosexual, Muslim, socialist, communist or atheist, or who worships any God other than Jesus Christ.

This the most Yee-Haw one I’ve had in doing this daily piece over the last several months.