A rivalry renewed?

The 2013 SEC schedule is set in stone. But, beginning with 2014, it is possible LSU-Arkansas, a rivalry which has never quite taken flight, could move from its usual Thanksgiving weekend slot. LSU's Verge Ausberry discusses with TSD.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – LSU versus Arkansas, it's become a Thanksgiving weekend tradition.

The two Western division programs have met on the gridiron every year since the Razorbacks joined the Southeastern Conference in 1992, every year since 1996 for a trophy called "the Golden Boot." More often than not, the Tigers and Hogs have done battle the day after Turkey Day.

The most recent installment, played Friday, saw LSU walk away from frigid Fayetteville with a tight 20-13 win.

According to rampant speculation the past six months, this matchup – or at least the timing of it – could soon become a thing of the past. Ever since SEC Spring Meetings 2012, housed as usual in Destin, Fla., the last week of May, it's been no secret that LSU brass would prefer a different opponent to round out the Tigers' regular season. Texas A&M.

"From LSU's point of view, we would probably like that – to be with A&M (on Thanksgiving weekend)," said Verge Ausberry, LSU senior associate athletics director in charge of scheduling, during halftime of Friday's game. "But we've got to talk about it, both schools, and Arkansas would have to be a part of that also. We'd have to see if they would want to move this game."

To date Ausberry indicated no official conversations have been entered on the topic. "That (move) hasn't been decided on yet. We haven't even really discussed it. We've had some discussions off the record about it, but nothing serious."

Part of the mentality behind a potential swap is that LSU-Arkansas never quite took off as the rivalry it was intended to be, not from the Tigers' side of the aisle at least.

It's become, to LSU, a bit of a fabricated rivalry, one fashioned together by Joe Dean Sr., former LSU athletics director, and Frank Broyles, his counterpart at Arkansas in 1992 because neither program had a legitimate football rival at the time the conference expanded to 12 teams two decades ago.

"In my period of time as the athletics director there were a lot of discussions. We were unfortunate that we didn't a have a premier rivalry," Dean told me May of this year. "Ole Miss had been historically a rivalry, but their level went down and it wasn't as tense as it had been previously. We were kind of trapped, to be honest with you, when Arkansas and South Carolina came into the league."

So new SEC member Arkansas, a longtime power in the former Southwest Conference, was penciled in for that role. And, for at least one more season in 2013, the Hogs will continue to play the Bayou Bengals on the final weekend of the regular season.

But, in the coming months, the discussion will be tabled for 2014.

"I think we'll have weeks coming up, starting in the coming spring, then you have the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin. We finally got the '13 schedule done, so next is '14," Ausberry continued. "I think it will be a little while before that one comes out, especially since we now have the playoff system and different schedules and how many games and permanent opponents, all that's going to be on the table."

All the variables associated with the new playoff and conference scheduling aside, Ausberry feels there's one fundamental reason to slide Texas A&M into Arkansas' current spot on the LSU schedule.

"I think it's better. I think it's better for LSU as a team," explained Ausberry of the proposed swap to Texas A&M on Thanksgiving weekend. "I think that the weather will be better. Because a lot of times you come up here and it's usually cold. Today it's a beautiful day, but it's cold and more often than not it seems to be raining. I think it's an advantage to the home team.

"So I think the Arkansas game would be better if it were played at a different time. But, like I said, it takes a lot of people – the conference and all three schools – to decide on how they want to change the schedule."

As Ausberry mentioned, getting Arkansas on board would be one hurdle. The ‘Backs would supposedly, as rumor goes, replace LSU with another border state, Missouri, for the final regular season game. Time will tell if that excites the movers and shakers in the world of Arkansas athletics.

Another hurdle, though, as Ausberry points out, is getting on the same page on this issue with new Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman.

Hyman, who spent the last seven years in the same position at South Carolina, was hired in late June to usher A&M into its SEC era. He replaced a man in Bill Byrne, who retired in May a year before his contract officially expired, firmly in favor of this idea.

"I feel A&M would," speculated Ausberry when asked if the Aggies, on their end, would prefer to play LSU Thanksgiving weekend. "The A.D. before this one was in favor of it. Bill Byrne was on board. But there's a new A.D. now, and I guess he'll talk to his football coach [Kevin Sumlin] and they'll make the decision."

The decision, per Ausberry: "Do you want to play LSU where we (Texas A&M) play them the week before Arkansas like we do next year or should we play them the last weekend?"

More clarity is soon to come on this entire situation, but the writing does seem to be on the wall that LSU-Arkansas will eventually be on the way out as a Thanksgiving weekend rivalry.

Not all traditions last forever.


Additional Tidbits from Ausberry Interview

- He sounded fairly confident that the SEC would move to a nine-game conference schedule in the relatively near future, though maybe not as soon as 2014.

- It was clear from our discussion that he and Joe Alleva, LSU athletics director, intend to keep fighting the battle in terms of doing away with the permanent cross-division opponent. Ausberry said he has no problem with playing Florida – just that it shouldn't be forced on LSU every single year.

- Ausberry also indicated, as he's told me before, that it's likely inter-division games will begin to appear earlier and earlier in the schedule for all SEC teams. That's just the way the TV networks want it and, eventually, it will come to pass regularly. That could mean the Florida game will be contested earlier than usual (it's long been the first week of October). It definitely helps explain why the LSU-Georgia game in 2013 is as early as it is (September 28). Ausberry said the driving factor of these early season East-West games will be the emergence of the SEC Network.

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