Tuesday, May 26, 2015

From the Bench

The Twitter Top Dozen for Razorback Entertainment and Info


All the kids love the Twitter. And so do the adults when it comes to sports. But who to follow?

Here with the answer is my annual ranking of the top Razorback-related favorites to follow on Twitter, of course excluding Rick Schaeffer’s favorite scribe, @ScottFaldon. Although he has left the newspaper world, he is still a sports fan at heart. So, let’s see where everyone else falls this year.

11) Whole Hog Sports – @wholehogsports (19,814 followers, new to the list)
This was spot last year was held by Matt Jones, but I don’t recommend going to @nwamatt as it’s all in some foreign language now.

10) Jen Bielema – @jenbielema (42,789 followers, up from 30,023 from last year, ranked #2 last year)
The fact she still has more followers than the starting quarterback is interesting. Maybe it is the pics. She has a great sense of fashion that surely sorority girls around campus take notice. She was ranked high last year still in the wake of the infamous #karma hashtag, but that has since faded and so has her spot in my Twitter list. She tweets sporadically, but I have kept her on the list because you never know when she will be tweeting the girls weekend in Vegas. Or have another #karma incident. Once a hashtagger always a hashtagger. She follows 187 on Twitter. I am not one of them.

9) Fake Jeff Long – @FakeADJeffLong (3,809 followers, up from 3,489 last year, ranked # 9 last year)
This is a great source of humor about Razorback athletics. Last week, he tweeted, “After watching our coaches on the golf course today, I have finally found a place where we should yield.”

8) Trey Biddy – @treybiddy (13,598 followers, up from 11,181 last year, ranked #12 last year)
T. Biddy is trending up. He is still the ultimate recruitnik, and I think he would follow recruiting even if he did not make a living out of it. If you love recruiting, he is a must follow, but he might try to direct you to his pay site. He appears almost regularly on Drive Time Sports at the five o’clock hour and was part of the moment of the year on Drive Time. You know the one I am talking about.

7) Richard Davenport – @ARrecruitinguy (31,163 followers, up from 22,793 last year, ranked #11 last year)
Is the fact that his followers increased more than T. Biddy an indication his recruiting news is better? You can follow this guy because he is the statewide paper’s recruitnik who made a name for himself doing the same on Hogville.net. You have to hand it to him for turning a passion into a career. He does a good job and will provide you with more than enough recruiting news.

6) Keon Hatcher – @keonhatcher4 (11,200 followers, up from 7,966 last year, ranked #8 last year)
As the primary returning receiver, he has to be on the list. Last year, I had to admit that I did not understand most of his tweets, but it sounded fun. His tone and demeanor over the last year has changed. Somebody must have talked to him, because his tone is more subdued. It didn’t hurt his number of followers, but it did hurt his ranking on this list.

5) Jeff Long – @jefflongUA (65,022 followers, up from 44,903 last year, ranked #10 last year)
You have to hand it to the UA athletic director. He has really embraced Twitter as a means for communicating with Razorback fans and actually interacts with them as much as he can. He has posted more than 14,000 tweets, making most of you look like amateurs. I wonder if that is the way that he hooked up with Bret Bielema on the hiring before becoming a follower. His Twitter address is also a great way to continually harass him to install natural grass in Razorback Stadium since he fired the coach who requested it be installed. He follows just 159. Again, I am not one of them.

4) Alex Collins – @Budda03 (44,536 followers, up from 29,383 last year, ranked #6 last year)
His follower count still goes up every time that I check. As the star running back, he is a must follow. One thing that I can agree with that he tweeted is “Netflix need to update these movies! It takes me about an hour just to find one I haven’t seen yet.” Man I know that feeling. I wish he would put out a list of must-see movies on Netflix. Yet, I wonder if there is a different type of film he should be watching.

3) Brandon Allen – @BrandonAllen10 (22,183 followers, up from 14,987 last year, ranked # 7 last year)
Two years ago, the plain-vanilla kicker had more followers than Allen. But being the Razorback starter at quarterback will get you followers, especially when fans are turning to Twitter to see more photos of his burned-out truck. But, there is another reason to follow him. I don’t know of many players other than Peanut Adams who have had to endure the hate at quarterback as this kid has had to put up with. If he has a great season, he needs to go down as one of the great Razorback martyrs of all time.

2)Alyssa Orange – @alyssaorange (1.266 followers, up from 570 last year, ranked #3 last year)
I need at least one female on this list for diversity. One year, I had @kkgbitchprobs on this list, and then she quickly vanished from the Twitter seen. Then two years ago, I had @sh_tgirlsthink, which has also gone silent now on Twitter. I questioned if Alyssa Orange would follow the pattern, but she has not. Even though I ranked her high last year in hopes that she would follow me, it did not work. So now I moved her to second place hoping that makes a difference.

1) Bret Bielema – @bretbielema ( Almost 150,000 followers, up from 85,032 last year, ranked #1 last year)
He is the head coach of the Razorbacks so you have to follow him. He can be entertaining and you know any day now we might get a tweet from the golf course. He keeps the top spot for another year.

What UofA players, cheerleaders, or soccer girls have I missed on this list? Let me know your nominees. Follow me on Twitter @robert1shields or send me an email (that is so 2005, though) at fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Robert Shields is a world-class mime who partnered with Lorene Yarnell for a prime-time television show in the late ‘70s. He later moved to Sedona, Arizona, to become an artist and make jewelry. THIS IS NOT ME.

Monday, May 18, 2015

From the Bench

Win against Texas A&M is Critical to a Successful Football Season

Robert Shields

Looking ahead at the Razorback football schedule, the game that sticks out is the Texas A&M game on September 26. It will be Arkansas’ fourth game of the year, and the Hogs should be 3-0 when going into the game in Dallas against the Aggies.

The game will be the fourth game in a row where the Razorbacks will face a team that starts with a “T” for those that care for such weird facts as the Razorbacks play Texas-El Paso, Toledo, Texas Tech, and then Texas A&M. And for those that love streaks, the Razorbacks actually play their first five games against a team that starts with a “T” as the fifth game is against Tennessee.

The team could survive a loss to Texas A&M, but to show improvement over last year the team needs to win it. The game last year was so close and heartbreaking.

Maybe you have blocked this out of your memory, but the Hogs led 28-14 into the fourth quarter only to see the lead and game slip away as the Aggies scored the last 21 points. The Razorbacks outplayed the Aggies for the entire first three quarters. Then fate struck as Kenny Hill hit Edward Pope for an 86-yard touchdown pass to cut the Razorback lead to 28-21.

For the first time in years, Arkansas almost showed that it might have the killer instinct with around 6 minutes left in the game when it started a time-consuming drive that stalled with a little more than 2 minutes left in the game. A field goal probably seals the game, but as fate would have it again, the Hogs missed a 44-yard field goal. Two plays later, the Aggies would be back down the field for a touchdown to tie the game at 28.

The game went into overtime and the Aggies scored on their first play of the overtime to take a 35-28 lead. The Razorbacks tried to respond on fourth and one, but they were stopped short ending the game.

What should have been a strength for the team running the ball ended dismally as the team struggled to get even the fewest yards on the ground late in the game and overtime. Sorry to remind you.

I firmly believe that Brandon Allen was still feeling out his receiving corps last year at this point in the season against A&M leaving the team more one dimensional. The team will be more balanced on offense next season not totally telegraphing when a running play is about to happen.

Still, it was a bitter defeat.

Thus I come back to the coming season when the teams get rematched and Arkansas needs to beat them. A win launches the Razorbacks into the SEC West race with a winning record. A loss and everyone starts to wonder if the team is any better than last year.

It won’t be the easiest game, and even when Bobby Petrino was beating A&M in Dallas they were never easy as most of the games went to the wire. I expect the game this September in Dallas will be no different.

A&M will be showcasing their new defensive coordinator that they lifted from LSU. A&M’s weakness over the last few years has been defense, and the new hire is supposed to fix that problem. Yet, this A&M team is not the same since Johnny Manziel left.

All the more reason the Razorbacks need to win the game.

I will get messages telling me all the games are important and that is true, but some set the stage for a season to be special. The Razorbacks need this win over Texas A&M to shake the ghosts from last year and to prove they are a newer and an improved group from the previous year.

And all this is assuming the Razorbacks beat Texas Tech the week before.

I had to write something. I guess I could have written about Bruce Jenner.

Send what game is the most important for the season to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, May 11, 2015

From the Bench

Where Would Program Be Now Had Petrino Won National Title Prior to Motorbike Mishap?

Robert Shields

Back by popular demand, From the Bench plays “What if?” going back in time a la “Hot Tub Time Machine” to see what might have happened had the wheels of history turned a different direction.

I did this a few years back and it drew a big response. The hypothetical a few years back was, what if Reggie Fish actually fields the punt against the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game?

Had he fielded the punt properly and no fumble occurs in the end zone, the Gators would never have gotten momentum and the Razorbacks would have won the game and gone on to the national championship game because you could not hold a championship game back in this time frame and not have an SEC team. We all know the SEC wins every time in the title game unless it’s Auburn, so the Razorbacks win the NCAA championship and nobody transfers after the bowl game and Houston Nutt leads the Hogs into more special seasons.

Of course that never happened.

And this scenario that I am about to unfold never did either, but what if?

This hypothetical comes from reader named “Sterling,” although that is not his real name. Sterling wants to know what happens if the Razorbacks would have beaten LSU in 2011.

To rewind the clock and go down memory lane for some who may have forgotten, right before the Razorbacks played LSU, the AP poll, the only one that matters, had LSU at No. 1 followed by Alabama and Arkansas. It was when the SEC was at its zenith. It’s hard to imagine a Top 25 with the top three owned by one conference going into the last week of the regular season, yet that is where it stood.

LSU had beaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa earlier in a 9-6 defensive brawl in overtime. Six-million players were drafted off those two teams’ rosters that played in that game. It was a titanic matchup during the regular season. LSU went on and won the SEC Championship and then lost in the rematch with Alabama in the National Title game. It was the SEC at its best with the opportunity to match up two of its schools for the national title.

Arkansas met LSU in Baton Rouge the day after Thanksgiving in 2011. Unfortunately, the Razorbacks had to deal with a devastating and unexpected loss of a teammate in Garrett Uekman.

In reality, the Razorbacks really did get off to a fast start in the game and had momentum. Then something unfortunate happened on the way to the bank. A guy named Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu returned a punt 92 yards to tie the score at 14-14.

The momentum shifted and the Tigers went on to put a beat down on the Razorbacks, and Bobby Petrino dropped the F bomb on Les Miles on national television. This column called out the Razorback coach for acting look a fool in the public spotlight, but Razorback fans immediately ran to Petrino’s rescue.

But… what if the Honey Badger had fumbled that ball into the end zone when fielding the punt, and the Razorbacks recover the ball for a touchdown and go up 21-7 on the Tigers. The Hogs would have gone on a roll and blitzed the Tigers at their home.

With Arkansas beating LSU and pretending Auburn beat Alabama, the Hogs would have jumped to No. 1 and gone to the SEC Championship game because it would have held the tie-breaker over LSU.

The Hogs go to the SEC Championship Game and kill the SEC East. This in turn sends the Razorbacks to the national title game, and again, SEC teams always win it unless it’s Auburn. The Razorbacks win their first ever AP poll national championship and their first football title since the 1964 season.

Spring forward to April Fool’s Day 2012 and the events as Bobby Petrino goes for a motorcycle ride with his girlfriend (who worked for him and apparently nobody in the athletic department knew anything about it) and has his wreck. This is what Sterling really wants to know what happens. Do the events after the April 1 wreck play out the same with Jeff Long and Petrino?

Does Long fire the coach who just won the national title and has a team that some were speculating to be in the hunt for a national title in 2012? Sterling, my gut says no. The politics behind firing someone just winning a national title would have been too difficult. Another solution would have been found and the Program would have developed a more certain moral flexibility. With that said, either Petrino needed to win the national title or not have the wreck with his former girlfriend.

Regardless, as fate may have it, maybe the Razorbacks were lucky and things played out for the Program’s best interest.

Under this hypothetical of Petrino winning the national title, would that have been bad as the fans would have been stuck with the foul-mouthed, ill-tempered coach? Didn’t the team end up better off in the long run landing Bret Bielema, who under my estimation will win at least 10 games next year?

Send what you think happens to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, May 04, 2015

From the Bench

Presenting the 2015 Benchies to Recognize Outstanding Accomplishments in Sports

Robert Shields

In the spirit of the “Hogspy Awards” that the University of Arkansas athletic department hands out every year to recognize the most memorable moments in athletics, academics, leadership, and community service, if you buy that, From the Bench awards its own version, the “Benchies,” to recognize those who have made their mark in the past year in the athletic kingdom.

We all know the most important award to Razorback athletics is fundraising, but here are the rest. So let’s award some Benchies for the more “memorable” moments of the last 12 months.

“Trending Award” – The Boot
Photos of the aftermath of the Razorback victory over LSU with the team and fans celebrating the return of the Golden Boot left a lasting imprint from the season. After shutting out LSU in Fayetteville, the team streaked across the field to seize the Boot from the LSU sideline and then lofted it high and took it out onto the field. It was a jubilant moment and it played out on Facebook and whatever your favorite social media outlet is.

“Improved Award” – Bret Bielema
Mike Anderson could have won this award again by making the NCAA tournament and winning a first-round game. It very well may have been the best team in basketball since 1999 with Derek Hood and Kareem Reid. But in the end, it goes to Bret Bielema, who more than doubled his number of wins and won a bowl game against the Texas Longhorns curb stomping them. That’s always a great way to end your season.

“Karma Award” – Steve Spurrier
We all know who won this award last year and is responsible for the name, but this year it goes to Steve Spurrier. A year after putting a beatdown on Arkansas and saying the Razorbacks will have to recruit their way out of this mess when they were going 3-9, the Gamecocks were terrible while the Hogs just kept getting better and better. For Bielema, the success he enjoyed last year was more than just good recruiting -- it was good coaching and preparation, unlike Spurrier’s season.

“The Newbie Award” – Jimmy Dykes
With no head-coaching experience, Dykes was inexplicably given the women’s basketball job at Arkansas. He won this award last year also, but he is still the newbie. Some told me he turned the women’s basketball season around. I have no reason to doubt them.

“Disappointment Award’ – Razorback Football Team
I know this seems odd since I have done nothing but praise the football team, which finished strong winning three out of its last four games and shutting out two ranked opponents in back-to-back games. The disappointment comes from losing so many tight games. The team lost a heartbreaker to Texas A&M in overtime. It was a game where the Razorback outplayed the Aggies most of the game and was the superior team. The Hogs then went on to drop other very close games including one to Alabama where a fumble out of the back of the end zone cost the Razorbacks seven points and to compound it they also missed an extra point and lost the game 13-14. The losses to Mississippi State and Missouri were almost as equally as painful. The more I am typing the more I am beginning to wonder why we are all so optimistic about next season.

“Tweeter Award” – Jeff Long
Love him or hate him, this guy knows how to work Twitter. Maybe he should teach a class for student athletes and famous people how to do it appropriately. He has many loyal followers and has composed thousands of tweets yet never once alleged that he’s been hacked as an excuse for a bad tweet. That’s awesome. I have noticed some recruits and athletes in the past even retweet his tweets. Long won this last year and looks to be a one-man dynasty with a lock on this award for years to come unless he takes another job somewhere that leads to a Twitter meltdown.

“New Jack City Award” – Jason Henry
“Are you my brother’s keeper?” It’s OK if you don’t get the early 1990s reference. And if that is the case, you probably also don’t get the rivalry with Texas, which is not OK. Two years, this award went to Dakota Mosely and last year to Josh Melton. When you get charged with human trafficking… well, never mind.

“Hero Award” – Dominique Reed
Two years ago this award went to Alex Collins, and last year it was Bijhon Jackson. The award has typically gone to an incoming freshman with the most pressure on him to perform at an All-American level. Rafe Peavey was a close runner up last year. This year it goes to a junior college transfer who is not even on campus yet. The award goes to Dominique Reed as the team needs his big-play potential. Collins and Jackson did not disappoint, so the bar is high for Reed to perform.

What are your awards? Send them to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, April 27, 2015

From the Bench

Razorback Football Will Be Exciting to Watch Even With a Few Missing Links

Robert Shields

Great weather arrived for the Arkansas Razorbacks’ Red-White football game on Saturday and so did a good crowd that got to witness the 2015 version of their team. This team has the ability to be a special one and might be the most well-rounded team since the 2006 season.

There are some needs that have to be met for this team to get to the next level in the SEC, though. For this coming season, maybe the most important recruit was one of the last singed in Dominique Reed, a high-caliber receiver who was sought after by many schools including Texas. He has big-play potential if the Razorbacks can get him ready by the beginning of the season.

Arkansas has a good contingency of receivers and tight ends -- among them are Keon Hatcher, Hunter Henry, Jeremy Sprinkle, Drew Morgan, Cody Hollister, JoJo Robinson, Jared Cornelius, and maybe Kendrick Edwards. They are a dependable group.

The missing component across the board is the guy who is the game breaker. Those Randy Moss or Terrell Owen types of receivers are hard to find. But, it’s what this offense needs to be very difficult to stop.

The team needs a receiver who is the answer when the opposing defense decides to go man up on the corners -- the type of receiver who can blow past a defensive back with his speed and is strong enough that when the defensive back tries to lock him up he can push right past him.

In my estimation, I can only remember a handful in Razorback history that had that kind of ability. Maybe Derek Russell, Anthony Lucas, Marcus Monk, Greg Childs, or Joe Adams fit that description.

Those types of guys are not very common, but when you have that player who is faster, more powerful, and has great hands, the defense has to play differently because the offense can make the defense pay in a big way if it takes the risk to man up on the great receiver. Defenses often have to back the safeties out of the box and leave them there for over-the-top coverage.

Reed could fill that role if Bret Bielema is correct about what he was saying about the kid on signing day. We will see, and it’s a lot to put on a new arrival, but it would be well-received by all involved if the kid has that ability because if he does, the Razorback offensive line is going to be able to run on most teams that do not commit extra people for run support. Reed is hopefully the guy who can stretch the defense.

Another need that needs to be filled is a speed back. Korliss Marshall was the guy last year. This year it’s to be determined. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are great backs, but they are not burners like a Fred Talley. When they get in the red zone, the Razorbacks need that back that can run 15 yards faster than the defense can run 12 yards. It becomes more difficult to plow your way into the end zone when the defense gets compressed against the goal line. You have to have that guy who can stretch the defense horizontally. Right now, the offense does not have that guy.

The defense also has a big need. They need to fill the shoes of Darius Philon. It won’t be easy. Philon was a block-absorbing black hole. I think sometimes he took up four blocks. He kept people off Martrell Spaight all year. Philon made it difficult to run his direction. If you did, you often found Spaight unencumbered ready to kill the running back. Spaight became a great student of the game, which allowed him to use Philon to his max and lead the SEC in tackles.

It’s just as tough to find guys like Philon as it is to find that big-play receiver. Maybe, Bijhon Jackson, Jamichael Winston, or Deatrich Wise will fill that role.

No team is perfect and most have some area where it can be improved. Yet still, this team is going to be very exciting to watch.

Send your spots that are in need to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, April 20, 2015

From the Bench

Riches of NBA Still Don’t Outweigh the Value of a Year in College

Robert Shields

That large part of the Razorback Nation that is always fully expecting to get its heart broken did this past week when Bobby Portis announced that he would declare himself eligible for the NBA draft even as many fans had recently proclaimed that Portis would stay.

You can’t blame the kid for leaving college for the lure of a huge payday that will also benefit his family and to another degree his agent.

Every year Portis waits to play professional basketball, millions of dollars are lost that he can never recover. The window to play professional basketball is limited, and every year spent playing in college is one fewer where you can earn real money.

This unsolvable dilemma that plays out the same way each year around this time and leads to a diluted product on both sides is the reason college basketball and the NBA are nowhere near where they were 20 years ago in terms of popularity.

And I don’t know the number, but I will guess the number of college kids who leave for the pros early and then go back and get their degree is low.

Some think the answer is to pay college kids playing in athletics in the revenue sports such as football and basketball so that they will be more inclined to stay and get their degrees. The universities make millions off these kids while they are playing sports and some who call for justice think the players should share in that bounty.

Not this capitalist. I’m in the camp of not paying players.

No one squawked that loud when Bill Gates was making millions while kids minted software for him or when Steve Jobs made billions with kids creating circuit boards.

No matter what anyone says, no one has to go to college. There are plenty of major success stories of people who didn’t.

However… the value that the universities provide to a student’s life beyond their education is never fully appreciated.

There is an enormous value that college provides a student with the experience outside of football and basketball that is so great it cannot be quantified.

You never want to be the one at a social gathering when the question comes up about where you got your degree and be in the position of either lying or explaining that you do not have a degree. Even if your degree is in paper cutting, it matters that you have it. Because when you have a degree no matter what it is in, everyone knows you earned it.

But the college experience gives a person more than just a degree.

It provides you the opportunity to find out who you really are, which is not really afforded to you in high school because of existing friendships and peer pressure. In college is where you really learn to socially interact with contemporaries.

In college is where you meet the people that often impact your life forever.

It’s often where you meet your future spouse.

College is where you let Sherman sleep on your dorm-room floor because he has been kicked out of campus housing for fighting Rofo and has nowhere to sleep but has eight weeks of school left and no money. Ten years later, you’re in an interview with Sherm.

In college is where you learn self-awareness, and it’s where you learn to not take yourself so seriously.

It’s where you run in the steam-duct underground between the library and the student union.

It’s where you learn your limitations.

It’s where you learn a baby tiger cannot be housed in a dorm.

It’s where you meet girls at Humphreys while stealing the Christmas tree off their floor.

It’s often where you find your religion or lose it.

It’s where you learn that people expect you to be an adult.

And to cut yourself short of that experience or think you should be paid for it is misguided and only robbing from yourself of what you could be in the end.

While it is hard to see past NBA money, whatever they are paying you is not enough to miss a year of your life.

Send your college experiences to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, April 13, 2015

From the Bench

UA Athletic Department Has Successfully Squeezed Out the Press to Control Its Message

Robert Shields

The most exciting thing to report on Razorback football right now is the hunt for a consistent field-goal kicker because the lack of one cost the Razorbacks two games last year.

In other words, there’s no more drama in uneventful Razorback Nation.

Gone are the days of worrying about a coach’s cell phone and text messages or if he is dating one of his subordinates and taking her on scenic motorbike rides.

Even in the midst of a 17-game SEC losing streak, there was no campaign to fire the coach. Maybe the fans are just worn out from a decade of soap operas and were ready to give the latest coach time to right the ship.

Or maybe something more is at play.

I used to refer to the media people who followed the Razorback Program like a fan club as the “Incestuous Razorback Press Clique.” I think that is unfair now. It’s just the “Razorback Press” because you now only hear what the Program wants you to hear and the folks on the beat have been silenced other than to be mouthpieces for Jeff Long.

The falling circulation of the statewide paper has not helped, either. Many fans are now relegated to Razorback message boards on the Internet. A negative word is rarely allowed on some of these fan sites, and if it is then it does not last very long before an overzealous administrator hits delete to make the comment disappear.

The best source on the Internet for a message board is by far Hogville.net. Its sister board at FearlessFriday.com is also great for high-school football and other sports. (Cheap pop, Lanny, so don’t delete me.)

I have been banned from several message boards over the years, and most Razorback observers have told me I should be proud of that because it shows I am doing something right.

But whether it be message boards, radio shows, Hawgs Illustrated (especially Hawgs Illustrated), or what the guy is reading on the television news, a dissenting viewpoint on the Razorbacks is not tolerated these days.

The fans don’t want to hear something negative about their coach or team, which is understandable. But without dissenting thought, it’s difficult to keep the UA athletic department accountable.

Apparently, many inside the program and those close to it knew of Bobby Petrino’s baggage and of Houston Nutt’s text messages, but the fans often never hear about it until after the fact because everyone is out to protect the program rather than report the facts.

The moment a coach has been fired, you hear about what a scoundrel that person is forever more. But where was this talk earlier in the game. In the words of Damien Hogdow, “Silence!”

The Razorback athletics message is strictly controlled now by the Powers That Be, and everyone in the state seems to be a willing participant. It’s the sign of the times, and the best information we get these days is the tired coach clich├ęs.

If the UofA wanted to have radio silence, it has won. Mission accomplished. All you will hear is their perspective and it will be positive. Even Wally Hall is playing along. Probably because those who don’t have their access to the program revoked in a clandestine sort of way.

You cannot blame the people in the athletic department. It’s their job to deliver their propaganda. With practices mostly closed, you only know what they want you to know. I just wonder if they knew it was going to be this easy.

Even in Little Rock, “Sports Talk with Bo” is off the air and now missing its largest audience, and the UA secretly has to be loving this development.

Bo Mattingly’s show typically just leveraged the positive, but at least you heard at times meaningful pieces, guests, or positions. Sure he was on board with the Program, but at times he would at least question some things.

All you have now in the largest market is the caller-driven radio show in the afternoon, Drive Time Sports, which has been caller driven by the same callers for several decades.

Mattingly’s show was different, professional, and more to my taste. Even though I was critical of his show from time to time, it was a great source. Now, Central Arkansas is even more in the dark about Razorback athletics.

I hope Mattingly finds a new home in Central Arkansas sooner rather than later. Otherwise, we are relegated to hearing whatever the Buzz puts on the radio.

To the UofA, I tip my hat. You have won. You can now follow all your Razorback sports news needs on @ArkRazorbacks on Twitter because the UA has effectively squeezed out all the other sources.

Send your dissenting opinion to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, April 06, 2015

From the Bench

With Strong Finish to Season, What’s Next for Bielema and Razorback Football?

Robert Shields

Three years ago on April Fool’s Day, then Razorback football coach Bobby Petrino literally and figuratively ran the football program off the road and into a ditch. It was a Sunday, and attempts by Petrino to quell initial information about the accident, the rumors started to fly and the truth slowly trickled out, although the truth as reported is still in doubt for some who still question exactly how the wreck occurred.

Petrino was fired a week later for lying to his superior and failing to disclose a conflict of interest. This would get almost anyone fired from their job, and not even the brash and successful coach who took the Razorbacks to a No. 5 ranking, its best in decades, could survive such a stumble.

After this cataclysmic event in Razorback history, I speculated it would take at least half a decade to recover, and if basketball is any indication it could take well over a decade.

Jeff Long, if he was being honest, would admit he followed the firing of Petrino with his worst decision as a vice chancellor of athletics -- he hired an interim coach for the cutthroat SEC and on top of that it was John L. Smith, not even the cool one who dated Pocahontas.

The team appeared to be self-taught at that point and one could understand if the remaining assistants were trying to find a plan to exit in one year when Smith would be relieved of his duties as interim coach.

Somehow in that hot mess in the wake of the brief John L. Smith era, newly married Bret Bielema decided to leave his winning ways at Wisconsin and three Big Ten titles to become the head football coach of the Razorback train wreck.

Bielema arrived talking loud and big. It was a rough start and the national media took its shots. Under Bielema, the football program set a record for losing with a 17-game streak in the SEC.

Heartbreaking losses followed him into his second year with an overtime loss to Texas A&M. The Razorbacks outplayed Alabama, yet an extra-point attempt and a fumble into the end zone cost them a victory over the Crimson Tide. The Hogs tried again against the No. 1 team in Mississippi State and took the lead into the fourth quarter, but again the team collapsed late in the game.

Then something happened. The Razorbacks shut out LSU and won the David Bazzel Boot. It was the turning point. The team followed that up with a shutout against Ole Miss. Three years into some of the worst football in Razorback history, the light appeared in the tunnel.

The football team went on the road to Missouri and could not hold onto the win. If Brandon Allen was healthy, the team probably wins, though, and Bielema said as much in hindsight he probably should have put Austin Allen into the game.

Brandon Allen got well and the Razorback went on to smash the Texas Longhorns in the Texas Bowl. He became the game MVP and the Razorbacks looked like one of the best teams in the SEC by the end of the bowl season.

If the Razorback football team continues the turnaround into Bielema’s third season, it will be one of the fastest rags-to-riches stories in Razorback history. It’s hard to imagine the distance the team has come from the departure of Bobby Petrino to now.

Fans are excited about football with Dave Van Horn’s baseball team languishing this season and basketball season being over. The biggest topic for fans right now is the Red-White game, and the credit belongs to Bielema.

Bielema learned fast. He shut his mouth. He changed key people on his staff and turned the defense around in one year. This year, he hopes to accomplish the same thing with the offense.

Bielema is at the starting line of his third season, and the expectations are growing quickly as a byproduct of his own success. Can he feed the monster in one of the toughest sports leagues in the world?

Send your hopes for next season to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, March 30, 2015

From the Bench

Lots of Questions Still to be Answered to Move Beyond Two Conference Wins

Robert Shields

The silvery, white winter in Arkansas has been slow to give way to warmer temperatures with snow even falling into March, yet the Razorback football team practices in earnest.

The big news from the spring practice is that a receiver is in trouble with Coach Bret Bielema and is probably no longer with the team. With so many players on the roster, there will always be someone who is not happy or someone who refuses to follow the rules, so look for this storyline to repeat just about every year.

Last year, the question for the team was, would the quarterback play of Brandon Allen improve the most or would the defensive play improve more? In the end, they both improved, but it’s hard to argue against the defense being very salty for most of the season. Martrell Spaight led the defense and also the SEC in tackles.

The question for the team this year is, will the defense remain at the same level with the huge losses of Darius Philon, Trey Flowers, and Martrell Spaight? And will the new offensive coordinator, Dan Enos, be able to make the offense move the ball better and be more productive.

The offense, especially on fourth down and short, typically failed last season and maybe led the coach to not go for it on fourth down as much as he could have. Enos inherits a senior quarterback and an experienced running backfield. He also gets back a dependable receiver in Keon Hatcher who at times last year also blocked really well when he went in motion.

The tight-end position will be loaded especially if the new talent emerges. And the offensive line should be solid again next year with the return of Denver Kirkland, Dan Skipper, Mitch Smothers, and the ever-versatile Sebastian Tretola. Frank Ragnow also now has the opportunity to step up and improve the line. In the end, the offense should be improved and hopefully be able to take some of the pressure off a defense that has to be rebuilt.

Brooks Ellis was a solid linebacker last year and improved measurably over his freshman year. He will have to lead the defense this year as a junior. He will hopefully be helped by two sophomores next year in Khalia Hackett and Randy Ramsey. Supposedly, these guys are an improvement in speed, but there is more to the game than speed at linebacker.

On the upside, the linebackers have help in the secondary, which should be more dependable than in the past with the return of Rohan Gaines, Jared Collins, and DJ Dean.

On the defensive front, Deatrich Wise, Anthony Brown, Bijhon Jackson, Tevin Beanum, and JaMichael Winston have some huge shoes to fill in replacing Darius Philon and Trey Flowers. In the end with the Bret Bielema scheme, it always comes down to line play and these guys will have to show up.

I have little doubt about the offensive line, and it might finally reach the point that Bielema envisions his offensive line to be.

Lastly, the kicking game can definitely be improved. The punt-return team was adequate last year and didn’t make mistakes, but it can be better in getting yards to set up the offense. Kickoff coverage was also decent, but it can be better.

The team has a lot of questions to fill this spring to move beyond the seven-win mark with just two conference victories. Hopefully some of them will be answered.

Send your spring hopes and dreams to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, March 23, 2015

From the Bench

Eleven Reasons to Hate the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen

Robert Shields

If you were unfortunate enough to come across an article last week written by “Mrs. Tyler Thompson” of Kentucky Sports Radio that was titled “11 Reasons Why America Should Root for Kentucky,” then you now know what a wonderful program they have over in Lexington even beyond the current winning streak.

The article points out that those Kentucky Wildcat players get involved in the community and basically walk the earth doing good works when not playing ball for Coach Cal.

They are such an incredible team, as the following passage illustrates, that we should all be grateful to be able to watch such beauty: “Watching Kentucky play is like watching a ballet of giants… when Willie gets the ball and a clear path to the basket, it feels like the basketball gods slow down time so that everyone can fully appreciate his gift.”

My favorite part of the myopic Kentucky viewpoint is that the piece was written like no other schools in America have basketball players that fans think “are a special group” who go visit schools and hospitals and love hanging out together.

Basically, only in Kentucky do you not realize that your list of 11 reasons to love your school applies to nearly every other basketball program in America. I especially like the part about the “nerdy kinesiology major” that never identifies what kinesiology is – as if that’s the major that all the nerds gravitate toward.

(Note: Kinesiology is physical education and popular course of study for scholarship athletes in basketball and football. It is actually the last place on campus you would expect to find Sheldon V. Nerdster.)

So as a favor to America in an effort to counterbalance this absurd list, here are my 11 reasons to be against Kentucky now that this special group that is “not identified by one-and-dones,” according to the article, has advanced to the sweet sixteen.

1) If you’re pulling for Kentucky, it’s like pulling for the bully at the school when he is stealing from the younger kids. You want to be able to cheer when the David slugs the Goliath in the mouth and knocks him down. It’s memories like this that have made the NCAA tournament so great, and it’s time to make a new memory involving Kentucky getting beat by a last-second halfcourt shot.

2) You should pull against Kentucky because Ashley Judd is for them. Who brings their dog to an NCAA tournament game? Ashley Judd does. Who kisses Dick Vitale? Ashley Judd does. She is quickly becoming the Kim Kardashian of the NCAA basketball world. Plus she badmouthed the Razorbacks saying that they played dirty. What? Kentucky has taken playing dirty to new heights on and off the court.

3) You should pull against Kentucky because they are emblematic of what is wrong with college basketball. The number of players who go to Kentucky and play a year or two and then leave is the reason college basketball is not as fun as it used to be and as a bonus is damaging the NBA. Kentucky is not just part of the problem – it is the problem.

4) If you have ever met a Kentucky fan, then you know why you should hate them. Oh for the days when Nolan Richardson used to walk into Rupp Arena and shut them up.

5) If Kentucky wins, it will just perpetuate the problem of John Calipari continuing to be rewarded and lavished with accolades after leaving a wake of destruction at every college program he’s ever headed in the past.

6) The only good thing to come out of Kentucky is bourbon and even that is debatable.

7) It’s fun to see streaks end. You never hear anyone say, “it’s a shame that Bill Walton team didn’t beat Notre Dame and keep winning.” Or, in football, “It would have been nice for Florida State to have beaten Oregon in the college football playoff and just keep winning.” It’s time for this streak to end in glorious fashion.

8) You can’t respect an SEC school that has forsaken football and only worries about basketball. Why Kentucky wasn’t jettisoned to Conference USA long ago is beyond me.

9) Kentucky is the new Duke. Not only should America not be jumping on the bandwagon to root for them, but websites should be popping up solely dedicated to hating this school that sold its soul in hiring Calipari. He is one motorcycle ride away from scandal.

10) “When they called me, believe me, I would have crawled all the way to Lexington.” Never forget.

11) You never want to have to look back in life and think, I pulled for Kentucky.

Tweet your #12threason why we should all hate Kentucky to lose to @robert1shields.

Monday, March 16, 2015

From the Bench

Skipping Over Wofford Straight to the NCAA Tournament Rematch With Kentucky

Robert Shields

As fans found out on Selection Sunday that the Razorbacks were slotted in the always dangerous No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, a seed that has produced at least one upset every year against the No. 12 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. A No. 12 seed has won 41 times over a No. 5 seed since the tournament expanded as well.

The upsets come for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest is the teams that land in that 12-seed spot are the best teams from conferences that are not major conferences. These teams are typically battle tested and dominate at their level. They also tend to be senior-laden teams that have tons of experience and chemistry playing together all those years.

Conversely, they catch the No. 5 seed teams that are not the best from major conferences and are just inside the top 25. The 12 seeds also play with confidence as they know to some degree they can win in the NCAA tournament and actually maybe should win based on past performance.

While learning about Wofford, I discovered I am not over losing to Kentucky. If both teams advance, the Razorbacks won’t have to face Kentucky until the Final Four. Kentucky is a bad matchup for any team, but I think it’s also very true that the Hogs are a bad match-up for any team in the tournament, including Kentucky.

Kentucky’s size is just too much for the Razorbacks, and they easily throw over the traps set by the Razorbacks. Many teams just cannot do that. But the Wildcats are taller and bigger and can beat the trap at will, and this hurts the Razorbacks as their trapping defense is one of the engines that drives the team to wins.

But, I would like the Razorbacks to have one more chance at the Wildcats. Not just to see Ashley Judd and the opportunity to see her crying in the stands, but I think the familiarity with Kentucky will eventually produce an edge. The Hogs played them much better in the SEC tournament than a few weeks ago in the regular season.

I like to dream big. So, what would it take for the Razorbacks to beat the Wildcats given the fact they will get past Wofford? Against the overwhelming size that Kentucky brings to the table, it will take an exceptional shooting performance by the Razorbacks.

I think it will take a game similar to the 1985 NCAA tournament championship game where eighth-seeded Villanova led by Easy Ed Pinckney beat the No. 1 seed Georgetown Hoyas lead by Patrick Ewing 66-64.

Villanova had lost to Georgetown twice in the regular season similar to the Razorbacks current losing streak to the Wildcats. The Razorbacks have Bobby Portis as its anchor and go-to guy down low. He is the glue of the team this year similar to the role of Pinckney for Villanova.

I said it would take a phenomenal shooting day for the Hogs to beat Kentucky. Villanova, on that Monday night in Rupp Arena, shot an amazing 79 percent for the game. When the buzzer blew at the end, the Wildcats of Villanova had only missed six shots on the night.

They followed up that shooting by hitting 82 percent from the free-throw line. The Razorbacks would need the same type of effort at the line. When Kentucky is giving you uncontested shots at the free-throw line, you have to make them pay.

Georgetown was also a great shot-blocking team led Ewing, who seemed to block everything. And, it was not like Georgetown had a bad night. They shot over 50 percent for the game and had more rebounds and assists, but the superlative shooting performance by Villanova carried the night.

Personally, I believe it to be the greatest upset in the NCAA championship game. I can only hope the Razorbacks get the opportunity and can repeat history.

Then again, it’s always hard to beat the team with a much higher payroll.

Send your tournament dreams to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, March 09, 2015

From the Bench

Is the UA Athletic Department a Good Model for Business Practices?

Robert Shields

A recent item on the Innovate Arkansas blog from Arkansas Business came with the title, “Three Lessons Arkansas Businesses Can Learn From the Razorbacks,” and suggested that the University of Arkansas athletic department “may be able to teach state businesses a few helpful lessons on how to correctly run a multi-million dollar operation.”

This idea for UA athletics to be a shining example for businesses is extremely interesting considering that the UA athletic department is highly dependent on donations and couldn’t stand on its own without the taxpayer-supported public university it is attached to.

It has also figured out a way to charge more even at times when the product falls to substandard levels. Maybe how they pull this off does indeed deserve further study that businesses can learn from.

Being the one-time “Outstanding Student in Economics” from the UofA, and I do have a the certificate in my garage in a box next to my lawn mower as proof, I loved this thought-provoking piece as it makes readers consider how things are managed at the UofA.

While it is possible that the state’s flagship university is the organization with all the answers, this story seems to be written in the absence of the fact the football program just went through a 17-game SEC losing streak – not exactly an ideal business model.

Most business can’t afford to weather that long of a storm. How the University weathered the storm is significant, but as a state institution that cannot fail makes it somewhat easier. That aside, Innovate Arkansas’ piece made some valid points.

The article, written by business consultant Larry Alton out of Iowa, sites three lessons. The first revolves around the firing of Bobby Petrino and how the UofA handled it properly. The lesson is that it’s important for any organization to put the good of the business before any individual. So, by putting Bobby Petrino in his place, the UofA football program ended up in a better place.

I think it’s important to look back even further because the more important point is that who you hire is very important for any organization.

The problem with Petrino did not start with the motorcycle accident. It started with his hiring. He came with a lot of known baggage, and I don’t think many mistook him as a pillar of righteousness. Some insiders probably even considered him a scoundrel.

I quickly remember the column that I wrote in 2011 following the loss to LSU. In that LSU game, Petrino was dropping the F-bomb on national television screaming across the field at the LSU coach, Les Miles. I chastised Petrino for the behavior saying it was unprofessional. As a result, I was taken to the woodshed by fans explaining his behavior and defending him.

Petrino’s behavior was symptomatic of a much larger problem of a person who was becoming larger than even his ego. He believed he was untouchable, and the state and university treated him that way.

The lesson learned is hire good people. Integrity matters. Spoiler alert as that is lesson three of the Arkansas Business story. On the second try for Jeff Long, the hiring of Bret Bielema seems to be a good hire of a good person. He seems to be ethical and wants to recruit kids with the same mentality.

The second lesson of the Innovate Arkansas story is that facilities matter and that the building of the Football Operations Center has paid off. I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but it’s not an absolute. I totally agree having the right tool is imperative to doing a job right.

But, the right tool is not necessarily the newest, greatest, and shiniest thing available. When you need a pencil, it’s spot on and the technology has not changed in a very long time. Sure, in the interim since the development of the Ticonderoga No.2, other writing instruments have surfaced, but when you need a pencil, a Montblanc pen is probably too much and can leave a permanent mark.

Bud Walton Arena comes to mind for me as the UA’s Montblanc. Modeled distinctly after North Carolina’s arena, it was the Cadillac of its time and can still hold its own against many of the great arenas when it comes to style points. It is a palace.

But much like a premier school like Duke staying at its 9,000-seat cracker box of Cameron Indoor Arena, I often wonder what would have happened if the team just would have stayed at the inferno of Barnhill Arena. Sometimes improvements are mandatory, but sometimes change for the sake of change is not advisable, and the lesson to be learned in business is trying to be smart enough to know the difference.

As previously mentioned, the third point is that integrity is critical. I could not agree more, but it’s not what makes business successful.

Most economists will tell you everyone has a price. Time and money supplants integrity. When in business what you are actually talking about is not integrity but ethics. Everyone must follow the law or at least you are supposed to. Ethics revolves more around Lou Holtz’s do right rule.

For example, you don’t have to spell out every team rule because some are empirical such as you can’t bring a gun to practice. Ethics is about doing the right thing when there is no rule to stop you. The world is full of companies that are very successful yet are very unethical.

So we come back to the UofA, which is where I leave you. Do you want an athletic department that acts ethically or one that is driven toward money and wins?

I know someone will quickly ask me why can’t you do both. My response would be under the current state of the NCAA, I don’t think that is possible. But if the UofA does, it will be the exception in the marketplace and there is nothing wrong with that.

Send your debate on business ethics to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, March 02, 2015

From the Bench

What Will It Take for Fans to Come Back to Razorback Basketball?

Robert Shields

The Razorback basketball team got drubbed in Lexington on Saturday by a Kentucky team that looked more like the San Antonio Spurs minus the great coach.

With basically a full roster of McDonald’s All-Americans, the Wildcats came to play and seemed to be very aware that the Razorbacks had won an incredible four out of the last five games against them. Stop for a second and let that stat sink in before getting too critical about Saturday’s loss.

Some fans will take Kentucky’s emphatic win as an opportunity to pile on Razorback Coach Mike Anderson and say he is an inadequate coach, which is ridiculous considering this season’s edition is the best Razorback basketball team in the last 15 years maybe.

Although fans have come back since the ensuing decade of disaster that awaited the program after running off Nolan Richardson, the Razorback nation still displays a lot of apathy about basketball.

I had one friend ask me on Saturday, “When do the Razorbacks play Kentucky, tonight?” I told him the game was over, but at least I give him credit for knowing who the team was playing.

I don’t think his lack of interest in the basketball team is all that unique. More fans are geared up about baseball starting or the anticipation of spring football. The love of basketball is just not there, and if you need evidence just look around at how many people at your workplace are not talking about the weekend’s game every Monday.

I never realized the depth of the damage that was done after Nolan Richardson left the Program until this season.

Years ago, I knew the apathy was bad when people railed on KATV for bumping “Lost” to late night to show a Razorback basketball game instead. In my day, it used to be the other way around.

I knew a lot of the foundation for Razorback basketball had to be rebuilt, but I never realized the indifference people had developed over basketball over the last 15 years.

The lasting legacy of the people who fired Nolan is that in the following years they showed people that they could live without Razorback basketball.

Even in the midst of a 17-game SEC losing streak, Razorback fans were still engaged with the football team. The previous football coach had success, and people still had that taste of victory in their mouth.

But this season in basketball as the Razorbacks have climbed to being the second-best team in the conference, fans are still somewhat indifferent and should be more excited about this team heading to the NCAA tournament.

When was the last time the Razorbacks were even in a discussion about tournament seeding? Do Razorback fans even know what that means anymore?

I’m not sure Razorback fans have fully engaged basketball since the team of Kareem Reid, Derek Hood, and Pat Bradley in 1999. That’s just how long it has been. Freshmen at the UofA this year probably don’t even realize the second-highest paid player in the NBA, Joe Johnson, played in the Razorback red or his thrilling SEC basketball tournament championship in 2000.

The Razorbacks have had two eras of successful basketball in my lifetime. The first was under Eddie Sutton, who developed a great team with the Triplets featuring sophomore Sidney Moncrief and juniors Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph -- all of them Arkansas kids.

They won every game in the regular season but one against Memphis State and then went to the NCAA tournament and played an ever-tough ACC team in Wake Forest. The Razorbacks jumped out to a big lead, but Sidney Moncrief got in foul trouble in the second half and the Hogs wilted to the Demon Deacons trapping press.

That was the season that made all the Razorback football fans intrigued with the basketball team, and the next season the team arrived on the national scene when they beat powerhouse UCLA in the sweet sixteen of the NCAA tournament on their way to the final four. Fans were hooked.

Eddie Sutton left and Nolan Richardson arrived. The basketball Program went into the tank and fans got disengaged and one can only guess how bad it could have gotten if Cannon Whitby hadn’t earned his scholarship against Arkansas State in that historic NIT game.

But, luckily, the Powers that Be didn’t get that chance that year and had to wait over a decade before Nolan had another losing season before they could fire him. Nolan went on to form his own triplets in Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, and Oliver Miller. They made the NCAA tournament their freshmen year but were stopped early in the tournament by a talented Louisville team.

The next year they made the final four and began an incredible run in college basketball for the Razorbacks that has not been duplicated. Fans were again even more hooked.

But then they fired Nolan, and fans stopped going to games, then stopped watching on TV, then stopped caring. It’s proof that apathy is worse than fans being mad or hating on their team.

Mike Anderson is doing all he can to bring back the magic, but the fans have largely not returned.

So, what does it take for the third genesis of successful Razorback basketball? In my estimation, it will take a trip to the sweet sixteen in the NCAA tournament to reawaken the fan base.

This team is talented enough to do it, and this coach has proven he is capable of doing it.

Send your basketball renewal plan to fromthebench@yahoo.com

Monday, February 23, 2015

From the Bench

Seediness of College Recruiting Seeps Into High Schools in Arkansas

Robert Shields

Coaching legend Bobby Bowden once blamed his demise on recruiting services. To some degree, he started to rely on them too heavily instead of his own due diligence. After all, how could all these services be wrong with their estimations on a kid’s abilities? If Rob Shields Prep Services says a child is four stars along with all the other services, they must be right.

Anyone who pays even a little attention to these recruiting reports and websites knows these rankings are not exactly a science and that there is a lot of groupthink when it comes to rating recruits.

On National Signing Day (NSD to recruitniks), it just seems to keep getting worse. A few years ago, there was the player the Razorbacks were trying to sign, yet his mother ran off with his signing papers. It’s just turned into a nasty business. The nasty business this year raised its ugly head at North Little Rock High School (LR 1, NWA 0).

It seems the youth today all think they are starring in their own reality show. All they want is followers. These highly prized kids are being taught self-confidence, which is great, but with no humility. These athletes are getting so much attention just for being good in a sport (which can make a coach and university millions) that it ends up building ego, arrogance, and a lack of self-discipline, which never hold up well to adversity. How can you think these kids will ever be normal when being met by a helicopter and fed food like a rock star upon his demand? These kids are being fed a false reality by grownups. It’s not even marginally real and it won’t be that way once he steps foot on campus as a student.

I don’t even get these in home visits where creepy coaches go read to the siblings of the prized recruits, pet the dog, and yuck it up on the back deck with family. Once your kid signs, this isn’t going to happen anymore. It’s a farce. It’s a business transaction cloaked to look like a church social. Maybe after all the hand wringing, Cam Newton’s father had it right.

I get excited for recruiting about as much as 7-on-7 summer football. Yet once a year I have to write a column on it as some fans wring their hands over lost kids and others rejoice over getting Johnny My-Head-is-Too-Big. A few years ago, the big get on recruiting day was Dorial Green Beckham who even had his own acronym in DGB. He ended up at Missouri. Then left that school for another.

This year the big get was a receiver from North Little Rock. He committed to the Razorbacks earlier in the year. By January, he is announcing to the world through Twitter that he had decommitted from the Razorbacks. I knew at that moment this was not a Bret Bielema type of player.

Word started breaking about bad news at North Little Rock a week or more before NSD. Then in the days after NSD, it hit the fan when North Little Rock High School had self-reported to the Arkansas Activities Association that it had recruited a player illegally. The North Little Rock coach, Brad Bolding, is engrossed in a termination proceeding now. North Little Rock forfeited its basketball games and football games the receiver participated in. This included the state championship won by the Charging Wildcats in basketball.

Many have been whispering for some time what was going on in North Little Rock as great players at other local schools were transferring there to play football. Now, we know a lot more.

The seediness of college recruiting has really started to seep into high school athletics. These shenanigans have gone on for some time, but I think it has arrived in earnest.

Often, the private schools like Shiloh Christian and Pulaski Academy were blamed for recruiting. Now we know no place is immune, not even the public school systems in the state.

This will get worse and you can figure if it’s in high school at this level then it’s already occurring at lower levels of sports as adults leverage children for their own benefit.

Send your recruiting solutions to fromthebench@yahoo.com.