From the "You asked for it, you got it" category, Razorback fans who favor the expanding "pay-to-play" nature of collegiate competition can now do their part to give University of Arkansas athletes, and supposedly the competitive success of the athletics program, an edge.
Word went out Tuesday from The Hill that the UA Department of Athletics has launched its new approach to the name, image and likeness cash cow for athlete-students. It's called "Arkansas Edge."
Becoming a powerhouse in the still-developing name, image and likeness, or NIL, arena is apparently now a necessity before a program can even consider being a powerhouse on the field of competition. Goodness knows Arkansas' disturbingly lackluster football season did more than just hint that changes must happen.
The Hogs football team posted a 4-8 season this fall, going 1-7 in the Southeastern Conference. The only conference team to do worse in football was Vanderbilt. Welcome to the basement.
In the waning days of the season, talk turned more and more to NIL and how Arkansas had to do better with it to become competitive again. It is a rough and tumble world in collegiate athletics these days. The transfer portal, when athlete-students are qualified to enter it, untethers them from any program obligation or team loyalty. A program that can't produce dollars for big-time players will often see its recruiting targets get away.
With NIL and the lack of federal law to create a level playing field, you've got a football landscape full of chaos.
Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith told a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives early this fall it has "become common" for a college team's prospects to ask for $5,000 just to visit a school's campus.
In this environment, the UA on Tuesday unveiled its reformulated NIL effort in partnership with a firm called Blueprint Sports that specializes in management of NIL (isn't it funny how closely that resembles NFL? But we digress).
Playing Division I sports for just a free college education isn't enough anymore. The prevailing focus in today's college football is money and winning at all costs. Cuba Gooding Jr.'s "Show me the money"-yelling character in the film "Jerry Maguire" was an NFL star, but in today's reality, he could as easily have been an 18-year-old recruit being wooed by colleges.
Arkansas Edge is the UA's acknowledgment that coaches can't just show up touting how a recruit fits into their offensive or defensive schemes or how a family culture prevails on campus. They've got to bring some buckets of money. And it's a shame collegiate sports has come to this.
Athlete-students shouldn't be expected to take a vow of poverty to play amateur sports. But this wild west of NIL dealing will turn it, even more than it already is, into a professional-like environment. At some point, will there be much difference between the NFL and college sports? We hope so, or what's the point?
But for now, like other colleges, Arkansas is urging supporters to pony up more money so the university's capacity to "pay to play" is strengthened. Competition and NIL, they tell us, go hand in hand. "Winning at all costs" has new meaning.
And it's not just Nike or Reebok or the local Scrumpdilyyicious BBQ joint athletic officials want to fill the coffers. Arkansas Edge wants 5,000 members to contribute $50 monthly and another 5,000 to become $100 monthly donors. That would raise about $9 million a year to ensure Hog athlete-students can maintain a lifestyle befitting their on-the-field talents.
Think Arkansans simply can't afford it? Revenue at the state's casinos totaled $614 million in 2022, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. Revenue for the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery totaled $608 million in fiscal 2023. It seems the residents (and visitors) to this "poor" state can find the money when they want.
Get those checkbooks (yes, they still make those), debit cards and credit cards ready, Arkansas fans. And you thought the beers at Razorback Stadium were expensive.
Whats the point?
The University of Arkansas athletics program is trying to keep up with the ever-changing environment of college football. Time to pay up, fans.