Carl R. Reng: AState 100 Years

Taking over small Arkansas State College with an enrollment of just under 900 students in 1951, Dr. Carl R. Reng, retired in 1975 as the head of Arkansas State University with more than 7000 students. His time not only reshaped the school academically but athletically.

In order to appreciate the 100th season of Arkansas State football a look at how the program has grown is needed.

When Dr. Reng arrived, Arkansas State had just left the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference though football had really not been a part of the league in nearly a decade, rarely playing more than two AIC opponents per year. Under Dr. Reng, AState joined the NCAA and was immediately successful but then stumbled for a number of years.

With the hiring of King Block and then Bennie Ellender, AState football again found success. AState for a number of years had scheduled many teams from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, and Tennessee. That began to change when AState joined with four Texas schools to create the Southland Conference. Later changes would be expand the league into Louisiana.

1970 began the start of even more dramatic change. The year is best remembered for the Indians ending the season by winning the College Division National Championship after completing an 11-0 season, but the start was notable as well. The Indians trounced Wichita State in Wichita a few weeks prior to the crash that killed their head coach and several players. It was David Mitchell’s first game making it the first game for an integrated Indians football team. It was also AState’s first win over a University Division program.

Bill Templeton once told me that was the most important game in AState history. “It was the first time anyone really realized we could play in the big-time.”

That realization came at a very opportune time for AState. The NCAA was changing the structure of the organization. No longer would every school vote on every matter, scholarship limits by division were coming, and divisions would no longer just be about who you play and which championships you chose to compete for.

Reng had asked an assistant of Bennie Ellender to take on additional duties as assistant athletic director to Ike Tomlinson. Don Floyd began performing administrative duties in addition to serving as assistant football coach. When Tomlinson retired, Reng elevated Floyd to the position.

With the switch arriving in 1973 the five schools of the Southland had to make a decision. Would the league members choose Division II which would have many but not all of their regular non-conference opponents or would they take the more expensive route to Division I where they would be expected to offer more sports, play more high caliber teams and likely not be able to match the 105 scholarship limit of the elite programs but could match the limits in the 70-80 range of conferences like the Mid-American, Missouri Valley, Southern, and PCAA? Or would they opt for Division II where the limit on football scholarships would be lower than the limit Southland had set?

Choosing to not elect Division I was a realistic option. Two Southland members made that decision. Trinity (TX) and Abilene Christian elected to leave the Southland. Trinity eventually moved to Division III (but not before winning some Division I tennis titles) and Abilene moved to Division II (eventually returning to the Southland and Division I).

Dr. Reng and AD Floyd believed AState would fit better in Division I but some changes would have to come.

The Southland added four new schools in Louisiana as it moved into Division I.

Arkansas State not only made the decision to move to Division I but Dr. Reng felt that AState after years of major academic and housing construction on campus should begin improving athletic facilities as well. Don Floyd believed that if AState replaced Kays Stadium, the school might be able to start securing games against more recognized opponents.

Replacing Kays Stadium was the logical starting point. It was a small field that had been expanded in a haphazard method over the years and held no more than 8,000 fans.

Reng’s vision was for AState to have a stadium that would seat around 20,000 people, just as large or larger than the stadiums of similar Division I schools in the MAC, MoValley, Southern, and PCAA. Reng’s vision did not stop there. The stadium would be designed to grow with the program and the plans would include expansion sections that could take the facility to 45,000 to 55,000 seats just like most of the elite programs of the day.

Adjusted for inflation to 2014 values, over $6 million was raised to build the stadium. The amount is stunning when you consider that this was during a period when the local and national economy were reeling from a national recession and gas prices had increased dramatically. For example driving from Newport to Jonesboro round-trip in a typical car of the day would have cost about $21 in today dollars compared to around $7.80 today.

The stadium opened in 1974 and was completed in 1975.

The press box in a new feature for the time, included a number of seats enclosed in glass and heated and cooled.

In Dr. Reng’s 25 years of service not only did AState grow nearly 8 times larger, the university made critical decisions to join the NCAA and to later choose membership in the Association’s top level. Dr. Reng put forward a vision for Arkansas State athletics that we have at times struggled to follow but a foundation was left not just in facilities but among the alumni and supporters.

The next major athletic project at AState was the construction of the Convocation Center under the watch of Dr. Eugene Smith who had served for many years as a top vice-president under Dr. Reng and it would be Dr. Smith who would lead AState out of I-AA (FCS) into I-A (FBS) putting AState back on the path started by Dr. Reng.