For the fifth consecutive year, Texas A&M and Arkansas will play “the Southwest Classic” on Saturday at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (12 p.m. ET, ESPN).
They also played three games at the old Cowboys Stadium from 2009-11, so this will make seven times in nine years that the teams have played in the NFL team’s venue. It’s part of a broader trend of neutral-site games in college football, though they’re more common on the opening weekend than in Week 5.
Arkansas gets a few important things out of the game.
First, it maintains a strong relationship with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, an alum and former player who’s donated millions to the university. Jones gets to have his favorite team at his palatial stadium, and Arkansas gets to keep a famous benefactor happy.
In that same spirit, in 2017, the Razorbacks wore Cowboy-like uniforms:
“I don’t know that I’ve had anything happen to me that has been as meaningful as this gesture from the University of Arkansas,” Jones said then.
Second, the Hogs are playing a recruiting angle and keeping a foot in their old Southwest Conference grounds. The state of Arkansas is mostly devoid of blue-chip talent, and it makes sense for Arkansas’ staff to look for players within a wider radius. Arkansas shares a little stretch of southwestern border with Texas, and playing an annual game in Arlington is a good way to get exposure there. The Hogs have 15 Texans on their roster.
Third, the school gets a big payout, believed to be worth up to $5 million.
Texas A&M gets money and some exposure in a different part of the state. It also just wins and wins and wins.
The money thing’s big, with the Aggies coming out about as well as Arkansas. Per the terms of their agreement, the teams still get to make money on their own ticket sales, and they split other revenues, like those from sponsorships.
Texas A&M’s a little bit closer to Houston than Dallas. Making the roughly three-hour trip from the 100,000-seat college stadium in College Station to the 100,000-person (counting standing room) NFL stadium in North Texas is recruiting exposure for the Aggies, too, and further brands them as a big-time Texas program.
The Aggies have won six in a row in this series, the last four at Jerry World. The games have taken the same shape, pretty much: Arkansas has gotten off to big leads and then lost in overtime, with a few other common threads, too.
Fans seem fine with playing the game off campus.
Attendance has been solid, usually just shy of 70,000. That’s a little less than a home game would likely bring in for either in good times, but good for a neutral-siter.
The game appears to be sticking in Arlington for a while.
Probably, but not for sure.
The teams hadn’t played since 1991 before their Cowboys series started, but the series resumed even before A&M joined Arkansas in the SEC in 2012.
The teams’ 2012 and ‘13 games were moved to their campuses, as part of a deal that extended their initial contract to run all the way through 2024. Under their current terms, they’re slated to play at Jerry World every year until then.
When the teams and venue amended their old agreement in 2012, they added a provision that makes it easier for someone to back out. If either team decides it doesn’t want the annual game to be in North Texas, it can say so, and if there’s a dispute, the SEC commissioner gets to make the final call on its location. A&M’s former AD suggested in 2015 that the school might like to stop playing there at some point, but that hasn’t happened.
“We like it,” A&M’s new athletic director Scott Woodward now tells the Houston Chronicle. “It’s one of those games where the revenue is good, and going to Dallas every year versus going to Fayetteville every other year benefits us. And the record speaks for itself.”