WOODY BASSETT: Joy in Razorback land

Future bright for state’s most successful athletic effort

In the scheme of things, college athletics are not very important when compared to all the other stuff that really matters. But college sports do furnish an outlet for joy and entertainment, serving as a respite from the routine and grind of daily life.

Following your favorite college team allows a fan to invest his or her hopes and emotions in a game without risking much. Regardless of the outcome, life goes on. When the game is over, you move on to the next thing or the next day.

It's undeniable that college sports are deeply ingrained in the American culture. Look no further than where we live for proof of that. Many kids in Arkansas are taught to "Call the Hogs" before they even reach kindergarten.

The Razorbacks are a part of our state fabric. If you grow up in Arkansas or move here later in life, you are inexorably drawn to the Razorbacks. In a small, proud state like Arkansas where there are no professional sports teams, the Razorbacks are the only team with a broad, statewide fan base.

Sports are a part of society's connective tissue, bringing us together in a myriad of ways. That's especially true in Arkansas where the Razorbacks are a common denominator. That's precisely what Frank Broyles envisioned when he came to Arkansas in the late 1950s and what he crafted in the years that followed.

Being a Razorback fan keeps us connected regardless of where we live, what we believe, what we do for a living or what our age is. We may fuss and fight about politics or public policy and dozens of other things but those divisions are set aside for a few hours when we join together to support and cheer for the Razorbacks.

It's a great time to be a fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks and there's every reason to believe the best is yet to come through the rest of 2021 and in years now on the horizon. No wonder there's an extra bounce in the step of Razorback fans these days. One's happiness and sense of worth should never hinge on how your favorite team fares in collegiate athletics but many Arkansans just seem to smile a little bigger and feel a little better when the Hogs are doing well.

Having the right athletic director and the right coaches in place makes all the difference.

Men's and women's sports programs at the University of Arkansas are on an upward trajectory. Some of the programs are already among the best in the country and the others have taken dead aim on reaching that same level of achievement. The Razorback baseball team is ranked first in the country. This year's team is in the midst of another tremendous season, once again in the hunt for a national championship. The Razorback women's softball team is ranked in the Top Ten and having a fabulous season. The men's and women's track programs are superb, performing as always at a very high level. The women's basketball program recently concluded a successful season during which the Razorback team defeated two of the top teams in the country. New life has been breathed into the football program. Last season was clear evidence the Razorbacks are competitive again in the Southeastern Conference. Pride and hope have been restored in the players and fans. The football program is now in good hands and the future looks very promising.

And then there's the men's resurgent and energized basketball program! It was an exhilarating run this year by the Arkansas basketball team. Reaching the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995 capped off the Razorbacks' most successful season since the captivating and glory-filled years under coaches Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson. Arkansas basketball is finally back where it belongs--profoundly competitive, highly ranked and back on the national stage. Younger generations at long last got a strong dose of what it feels like around here when Arkansas has one of the top college basketball teams in the country and is prominently in the national conversation. The Razorbacks will be a major force in college basketball in the years ahead. And with a full house in Bud Walton Arena next season, the aura, palpable energy and decibel level in that splendid venue will be restored. It will be quite the happening.

Job well done by Coach Eric Musselman and by Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, who brought Musselman to Fayetteville two years ago.

The beauty of sports is they are unscripted. Anything can happen. But in Arkansas there's one thing that can be scripted---the Razorback faithful are always some of the most loyal, passionate and engaged fans in America.

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