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The Kingdom of Broyles

ESPN.com's Pat Forde writes an informative column about Arkansas AD and former football coach Frank Broyles. Because Arkansas sits in the media backwater, Broyles' influence (for good and bad) isn't a common topic nationally, yet he may have been the single most powerful figure related to the college sports world if you measure power by total influence on not only his institution but state and even beyond. Under the radar, he's been a "player" in the Southern ole boy network loosely based out of Augusta National where he is a member and where his friend and mega-Southern-power-broker, Jack Stephens, was chairman (see House of Rep eulogy statement by Marion Berry, no less).

Forde highlights some of Broyles' positive contributions and innovation (some might view some of these as negatives):

• Athletic integration. Broyles was the first to play African-American football players, both at Missouri (in 1957) and at Arkansas (in 1970).
• Conference expansion and realignment. Broyles masterminded the Razorbacks' prescient jump from a crumbling Southwest Conference to the superpower Southeastern Conference.
• The explosion of revenues and expenditures as athletic departments became their own fiefdoms. Arkansas' athletic budget was $900,000 when Broyles took over and today it is $44 million.
• The rise of the superstar coach. Some huge names in college sports have called Broyles boss: Lou Holtz, Nolan Richardson, Eddie Sutton, Ken Hatfield, Danny Ford among them. But none of them was as big as the Head Hog.
• The nationwide facilities arms race. Arkansas is among the national leaders in that category, as Broyles himself made an impressive transition from coach to savvy businessman and uncanny fund-raiser.

To these one could add championships and competitiveness in a variety of sports. There have been competitive negatives, not really highlighted by Forde such as

  • Poor performance in the sports that matter most to boosters as Broyles grew older -- only 1 bowl win over the last 20 years and few big bowl appearance; only 1 NCAA tourney win in the last 10 years.
  • Squabbles with Lou Holtz and Eddie Sutton that lead to their departures -- in Sutton's case stating that he would "crawl to Lexington," a statement made to dis Broyles.
  • An inability to recruit proven coaches over the last 20 years (Richardson was his last notable hire, but as it turned out, also sowed the seeds of the program's downfall).

Forde hints at a darker side to Broyles using phrases like "autocratic" and detailing some of his micromanaging. Like Paterno or Bowden in their coaching roles, Broyles long ago became so big as to be the sole decision maker as to when he would step down as AD -- a problematic thing for any institution. How many 82 year-olds are making operational decisions over multi-million dollar enterprises, especially where they are not the owner?

From a political economy standpoint, maybe the most interesting element of the article is the role of technology on Broyles' influence. Forde draws out how the controversies regarding former QB (now at USC) Mitch Mustain and Houston Nutt have spun out of Broyles' control in this new internet era. What Forde does not get at and one of the more subtle and darker charges levied by Broyles' critics is that in the pre-internet era, he controlled the spin through his influence over the Arkansas media. In that earlier era, little media monopolies or oligopolies made this possible. In the new era, while a lot of noise and maybe disinformation appear, one person cannot easily keep a lid on dissenting viewpoints or facts. When Sutton left, he became the traitor just as Mustain has to some UofA fans, but the official view of Mustain's departure is not the only one out there. One wonders, how different Sutton's leaving would have been taken in a world where information flows were much more competitive.