Legislators propose ASU, UA gridiron match
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 15:03
The debate over whether Arkansas State University should play the University of Arkansas in any NCAA sanctioned event could come down to a House bill recently submitted to the state legislature or by a simple vote by sports fans on the Internet.
HB 2274, submitted by District 27 Representative Andy Mayberry (R) of Hensley, and co-sponsored by District 58 Representative Harold Copenhaver (D) of Jonesboro, proposes a one-time meeting between the two universities at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, beginning with “the earliest possible regular season” with regards to NCAA rules, contractual obligations of the universities existing on the date the bill was amended and the availability of War Memorial.
Mayberry, who has held office since being elected in 2010, is attempting to make the prospect of a game between the state’s only two Football Bowl Subdivision programs more “palatable” to legislatures by making it a benefit matchup where at least $250,000 of ticket revenue from the game goes to a charitable cause.
The proposed game is one Mayberry has thought for many years should take place for a variety of reasons. The representative said he drafted a bill months ago for a regular series between the universities, but it was Copenhaver’s idea to make it a one-off benefit game.
“It had become obvious over a course of a period of time that without a little bit of urging from somewhere on the outside that that probably wasn’t going to take place as long as it was left to the administrations to do so,” Mayberry said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “They’re both state supported universities. It really hasn’t made sense to me why the game hasn’t taken place.”
To fully gauge the public’s interest in the legislation, Mayberry spent money out of his own pocket to set up www.arkansasasubenefit.com, where fans can vote on what Mayberry is calling “The People’s Game.” The site asks two questions, if the visitor wants the game to take place and to what organization they would prefer the minimum $250,000 be donated.
The choices include Arkansas’ Children’s Hospital, the Arkansas Veteran’s Home, War Memorial Stadium, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Little Rock Zoo.
Voting ends at midnight Saturday night and the results could determine just how far HB2274 advances in the legislature.
“If for some reason the people vote that they do not want to see this take place or do not want us to legislate it, then we will pull the bill down and we won’t spend a single moment of legislative time on it,” Mayberry said.
At press time, a total of 10,099 votes had been cast, with 53.3 percent in favor of the game occurring, with only 6,456 votes going toward the recipient of the game revenue with 71.4 percent voting for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
Mayberry did not discuss the bill with any of his fellow colleagues, outside of Copenhaver, before filing the bill on Monday and has received “mixed” reaction so far.
“I’m not sure how far in this legislative process we’ll be able to take it. There’s a lot of folks out there who are not in favor of this for a variety of different reasons,” Mayberry said. “There certainly has been some positive responses; I’ve also heard not so positive responses.”
Mayberry believes the prospect of a game between the Red Wolves and the Razorbacks is also an “economic” issue for the state. The representative believes state taxpayer’s money would be more wisely spent going toward an in-state game than the U of A giving the University of Louisiana-Monroe $500,000 to play at War Memorial in 2012.
Should the bill pass, it would cancel out the U of A’s policy regarding playing in-state programs that has stood since John Barnhill became Arkansas’ AD in 1946. The two universities have only faced off twice in NCAA sanctioned events, with Arkansas winning an NIT game in 1987 in Fayetteville and ASU’s women’s basketball team winning a 2005 NIT game in Jonesboro, 98-84.
If the bill does get out of the committee stage and is passed by both the House and Senate, it will be signed into law or vetoed by Gov. Mike Beebe (D).
The governor, a consistent presence at ASU football games, was unavailable for comment. Matt DeCample, the governor’s communications director and spokesman, said the Amagon native has been steady in his view of a proposed match-up between the schools since he took office in 2007.
“He thinks the two schools should play. He thinks it would be good for both institutions and for the state. However, he does not think it is the government’s role to compel them to play,” DeCample said. “He thinks that games between the U of A and ASU should occur when both school boards decide that it’s time.”
The Governor does not comment on whether he will veto a bill until it is on its way to his desk to be signed, because a “larger number of bills that are filed never make it to his desk.”
Mayberry doesn’t know if Beebe’s disposition toward such a bill will affect his fellow representatives voting decision, but he cites more than one “precedent” in the country where a state’s legislature has stepped in with bill requiring two major programs to play each other.