The 12th Game

Cedric Washington

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas receiver Cedric Washington's craving for high-profile, nonconference games started to stir after the NCAA Board of Directors added a 12th regular-season game, beginning in 2006, to Division I college football schedules last month.

The junior is excited the Razorbacks will begin a two-year series with defending national champion Southern Cal next fall. On the other hand, he was disappointed Arkansas' home-and-home series against rival Texas ended after the 2004 season.

So with the approval of 12-game schedules, Washington figured the Razorbacks would have a better chance to add a little more excitement to his senior season.

"I'm happy to have USC, butI want both (USC and Texas)," Washington said. "Let's play both of them. That's the way I feel about it."

Unfortunately for Washington, Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles and coach Houston Nutt don't exactly share his beliefs.

The Razorbacks -- and the rest of the NCAA's football programs -- kicked off the search for another opponent several weeks ago. While the NCAA's decision will probably trigger juicy matchups like Florida-Miami and Ohio State-Texas, the Hogs don't intend to add to the likes of USC, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn and Alabama on their schedule in the near future.

"We're not going to overschedule," Broyles said. "We're going to always keep an attractive schedule because you play LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina every year. Then you add Tennessee, Georgia, Florida.

"We're going to go slow to begin with."

Broyles said Arkansas' immediate concern is revenue. Home games generate $3 million in Fayetteville and $1.5 million in Little Rock. But the Hogs, who want at least seven home games each season, have just six in 2005 because of the USC series.

So they'll use the next couple of years to make up for the financial loss, securing home games against lower-tier opponents.

Without having to travel to return the favor to such an opponent, Arkansas will play eight home games in 2006. There's also a strong chance there will be eight more in 2007.

"We need the revenue, so here in the near future, the first few years, we're looking at getting a home game," said associate athletic director Bill Gray, who handles Arkansas' scheduling. "That will bring in a lot of money."

Gray said there has been no decision on whether added games will be played in Little Rock or Fayetteville.

Arkansas is in the seventh year of its 15-year contract with War Memorial Stadium, which requires the Hogs to play at least two games a year in Little Rock. Under the agreement, Arkansas must play three games in War Memorial Stadium during four of those 15 seasons. It already has done so three times (1999, 2000 and 2002).

For now, Gray has a pool of potential opponents to choose from and has been making calls in hopes of reaching an early agreement. He said securing an opponent for the first two seasons is important because, with 117 Division I teams trying to add 12th games, Arkansas' choices could quickly become limited.

"The first couple of years, those are the critical ones," Gray said. "Usually it takes a long time to work out a game. But everyone is going to be trying to get a game because we're all in the same boat.

"We're trying to get the first few games as quickly as possible."

After that, Broyles, Nutt and Gray will decide on long-term, nonconference scheduling goals. The Hogs already have home-and-home deals with USC (2005, 2006) and TCU (2008, 2009), so Broyles said the next opportunity for a similar series won't occur until at least 2010.

Broyles said scheduling another nonconference power, while attractive, could result in poor seasons and frustrated fans, which could cost thousands of dollars in future ticket sales.

So it's doubtful the Hogs ever will face nonconference dynamos like Texas and USC in the same season.

"You cannot succeed in this if your team is overscheduled," Broyles said. "(NFL Hall of Fame coach) Vince Lombardi said that there's three things that determine success: Coaching, players and schedule.

"You've got to have a schedule that gives you a chance. We're going to keep a schedule that will give the Razorbacks a chance to be national champions."

Auburn illustrated Broyles' concerns in 2003 when the Tigers were tabbed as national title contenders. But they lost nonconference games against USC and Georgia Tech, struggled to get on track and finished 8-5. Coach Tommy Tuberville almost lost his job.

Last year, the Tigers' nonconference schedule included Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and The Citadel. Auburn missed out on the national championship (undefeated USC got the nod), but won the Southeastern Conference title while going 13-0.

"Hopefully we schedule right," Nutt said. "I don't want to overschedule because it's tough enough in the SEC.

"I know a lot of coaches were against the 12th game, and I wasn't particularly for it. But there's bills to be paid, and the bottom line is you've just got to take care of your football team and just go play."

Arkansas has a few more options because NCAA rules now allow teams to count one win against a Division I-AA school toward bowl eligibility each year. Previously, I-AA wins could only be counted once every four years.

But the rule change has resulted in NCAA discussions about new guidelines for bowl eligibility, which could be raised from six to seven wins in 2006.

Meantime, the Razorbacks are scurrying to find an opponent for the first two 12th games.

"We're close on the first two years (2006 and 2007)," Broyles said. "We want to get that before everybody jumps out there so we can have a chance to get somebody we really want to play and somebody we feel like we need to play.

"Then we're going to step back and look at it and see what we've got to do."

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