Go to woopig.net’s message board, and check it out. I’ll wait here. If you are perusing the site anywhere near the time of this writing, hockey threads and posts are all over “Razorback Discussion”. And that makes me happy. Woopig has raised money for the team, money it badly needs, as the athletes are footing the bill for everything. Also, the multiple threads have helped bring attention to the club program, and their quest for a national championship. All the way around, the focus on the Ice Hogs at woopig has been a positive. For woopig. And that hockey team. And Razorback fans in general. But the story isn’t always told on one level – in fact, in the real world, it rarely is.
What I’m about to say is presented as a hypothetical, because I don’t want to open any cans of worms. It is purely for demonstration purposes, so please don’t allow your mind to wander too far away.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume the most dire warnings related to man-made global warming are true. You don’t have to really believe it, but let’s stipulate it just for a practice in hypotheticals. I’m the kind of guy, I hate any temperature below 75 degrees or so. Hate it. I prefer the climate of Kuwait to the climate of Colorado. So, I am ecstatic at this time of the year, when temps start going back up. The first day the temperature crosses 80 is a holy day of the year for me. I’ve been told the Earth has warmed by 1.7 degrees or so in the last few years. Me? I’m down with an extra 1.7. Hell, make it 6.7. I would love it if every day was just a little bit warmer. The problem is, if you’re stipulating that the worst-case scenarios are true, there is a bigger concern than my own comfort. While I am very happy for the days that are a little bit warmer, the bigger picture is that those good days are warnings of catastrophes to come. The story isn’t always told on one level.
Go back and look at the message board again. Notice that people aren’t nearly as enthusiastic to talk about basketball as they are hockey. What conversation DOES center around basketball seems to fall mostly into one of two camps – the “Fire Pel Now” camp, and the “I just don’t care anymore” camp. There is a rising sea of discontent, and it threatens to drown a once-proud program – not waterlog it, or drench it, but drown it. As in “dead”. When club hockey becomes the emotional outlet for Razorback fans in the last days before the SEC basketball tourney, no matter how good that may be for those young men on skates, it is a dangerous warning sign for what was once the pride of the Natural State.
A few days ago, the basketball team played a game against Ole Miss. At stake was a .500 record in conference, a first-round bye in the aforementioned tournament for a weary team, and, perhaps, the long-term fate of the head coach. And no one really seemed to care – at least not until AFTER the team had collapsed in the last few moments, a perfect metaphor for the last 2 years of Razorback basketball. The concern is just not there. Actually, I don’t think that’s entirely true. The deluge of letters following the loss to Ole Miss shows that the people DO still care. Perhaps it is only hope that is no longer there. Perhaps it is easier to follow a team without the expectations. A team without the history, and the prestige, and the resources. After a decade that has left the fan truly convinced that the powers-that-be no longer care about matching the expectations to the history, prestige, and resources, who can blame him for no longer holding on to the hope that excellence will some day return? Maybe it’s easier at this point to just cheer for the kids who are playing for the love of the game.
I’m not a “little Ol Arkansas” guy. I don’t believe that this state is so small, poor, rural, and/or geographically remote that it cannot put forth contenders in the major sports. I do believe that these goals are impossible if the state is not together. There are those who would tell you that the examples of the message-boards don’t really tell us all that much – that message boarders aren’t the best representation of the average fan. And I agree with the sentiment somewhat, though not for the boilerplate reasoning behind it. Message boards are a pretty accurate cross-section of the society they draw from, in my experience. I have met several fellow message boarders, and the range of occupations, personalities, politics, etc. has been every bit as diverse as anything you will find at Razorback Stadium on a Saturday in the Fall. I count among my message board “friends” a principal, several attorneys, several vets and current military members, salesmen, tech guys, Arkansas media members, Razorback lettermen from various sports (including the 3 big ones: baseball, basketball and football), hell, even mayors and ghost hunters. Where message board posters diverge is in their dedication to the program. This may rankle some, but the most diehard fans this University has are people like the ones you see posting on woopig. And they don’t care about basketball anymore. They would rather watch hockey, a game many of them freely admit they know little to nothing about. If we’ve lost them, where do we think the casual fan is by this point?
The song of the canary is a beautiful thing. The focus on and support for the hockey team has been a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, Razorback basketball has been poisoned with discontent and apathy, and I’m afraid Mr. Long is mistaking the last desperate cries of the canary for attention with that of a creature expressing its passion for life. I wish nothing but the best for the hockey team, and hope that the support continues well on into the future. This doesn’t mean we can ignore the dangerous message that lies beneath. The mine that is Razorback Basketball is on the verge of closing. It’s time to excise the poison, and allow the air to clear.
Form letters to fan outrage is not the answer. The answer is in the outrage. It’s a funny thing, passion. You either do what you can to harness it, or you become its prey. It’s time for Jeff Long to decide whether he will be made great by the moment, or if he will allow it seal his own tomb.