FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Thanks to Michigan, Arkansas suddenly has a complicated scheduling problem.
The Wolverines announced Thursday they will void their upcoming series with the Razorbacks, a pair of games that were set to be played in 2018 at Michigan and 2019 at Arkansas.
The move comes as a result of Michigan renewing its rivalry with Notre Dame, which is great for both schools and college football. But it presents a headache for Arkansas.
Sure, Arkansas receives $2 million from Michigan for the breached contract, but two years of advance notice is extremely late when it comes to scheduling in major college football. The schools set the now-cancelled series way back in 2012, which is standard procedure for a matchup of Power 5 programs.
Per SEC rules, Arkansas must play a non-conference game against a Power 5 school (or independents Notre Dame, BYU or Army) each year. With Michigan off the schedule, options are now limited for ’18 and ’19.
Another home-and-home series to meet the requirement likely is out of the question as Power 5 schools rarely schedule multiple opponents from a fellow power conference in a single season. No Power 5 school without a major program already on the schedule currently has a non-conference opening in both years. Only Oregon and Texas Tech in ’18 and Baylor, Kansas, and Minnesota in ’19 have such an opening.
The good news for Arkansas came from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who wrote in an email the Razorbacks could find a way out of the conference’s yearly scheduling requirement considering the circumstances.
“Given that an executed contract has been in place and considering the lateness of this cancellation, we will certainly work with Arkansas on this issue as it relates to the SEC’s non-conference scheduling requirement,” Sankey wrote. “Institutions are permitted to seek a waiver from the conference office when extenuating circumstances exist.”
Still, missing out on a chance to play a marquee opponent like Michigan stings.
If Arkansas is to find a Power 5 opponent to play in ’18 and/or ’19, a neutral-site game would appear to stand as the most logical option. Major programs rarely schedule a one-off game on a campus and, as mentioned, the preferred home-and-home series typically get scheduled well in advance.
However, a neutral site isn’t likely to be an option the Razorbacks want to pursue. Athletic director Jeff Long previously stated Arkansas wouldn’t play fewer than six games a season on campus. The Razorbacks already have a commitment to play once a year in Little Rock through 2018 and lose a home game every other year to their SEC game in Arlington, Texas, against Texas A&M. An additional neutral-site game could compromise the possibility of playing six games in Fayetteville in a given season.
These scheduling issues likely were running through Long’s mind when he commented on Michigan’s decision Thursday.
“Primarily, we are disappointed in Michigan’s timing in pulling out of a non-conference football series between the SEC and the Big Ten that has been set for four years,” Long said in a statement.
“While there are many other quality opponents that would help us strengthen our non-conference schedule, the late notice of Michigan’s cancellation makes securing those games substantially more difficult. Our focus will be to find a program that welcomes the opportunity to compete against a nationally respected program in the most competitive conference in college football.”
Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema also expressed disappointment with the cancellation, telling Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, “It was going to be an opportunity to play one of my favorite teams from the Big Ten.”
Bielema then took a shot at Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s heavy support and use of satellite camps, stating Arkansas could “maybe host a satellite camp in Cabo” with the $2 million paid by the Wolverines.
And with that comment we get a glimpse of what might have been a highly-entertaining back-and-forth between two of college football’s most-outspoken coaches in the week leading up to the game.
The trip to Fayetteville in 2019 also would been Michigan’s first-ever true road game against an SEC opponent.
Maybe pushing the Michigan-Notre Dame series back a couple years would have been even better for college football than this quick renewal.
Much was lost with Michigan’s cancellation, and now Arkansas is left with a scheduling headache.