The University of Arkansas board of trustees confirmed Wednesday that the worst-kept secret in college athletics was true: The Razorbacks are switching conferences.
After listening to recommendations by Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles and Chancellor Dan Ferritor, the board voted to end the school's 76-year association with the Southwest Conference and accept an invitation to join the Southeastern Conference, effective June 30, 1991.
In addition, Miami, Florida State, South Carolina and even SWC mainstays Texas and Texas A&M; have been mentioned as potential SEC members. Several reports have Florida State joining the conference within six weeks, with perhaps two or four teams to follow.
Broyles said Arkansas' decision was a prelude of things to come.
Arkansas and Penn State, he said, are only the first of many powerful Division I programs that will switch conferences.
"I expect a major upheaval," he said.
Several major conferences, including the Pac-10 and Atlantic Coast Conference, recently have reconsidered their stances toward expansion. Television revenue and gate receipts, an athletic program's lifeblood, are at stake.
Arkansas' decision to leave the SWC was simple. Barring "dramatic change," Broyles said the conference will no longer be as competitive as it was in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. He said the popularity of professional sports in the conference's boundaries--three NBA teams, two NFL and two major league baseball franchises--have lowered the SWC's revenue. Recent figures show that an average of 50% of the available seats are empty at SWC football games.
"If we thought the SWC could change its direction and get competitive for the '90s (Arkansas would have stayed)," Broyles said. "But we don't know what they could do."
Money wasn't the entire issue. Broyles said the athletic program's financial status was "extremely sound for the next 10 years." Instead, Broyles said he was more concerned with the long-term benefits of the move: recruiting, fan base and image.
According to the present timetable, Arkansas will participate in every SEC sport, except football, beginning in 1991. The following year the Razorbacks will be added to the SEC football schedule.
Broyles did suggest, however, that the SWC might consider releasing the Arkansas football program from its contract before 1992. SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer said he hopes an understanding can be reached.
"Years ago, everyone thought football schedules were like tombstones," he said. "You carve them up and never change them. That's different now."
The SEC, which added a school for the first time in its 57-year history, grew to 11 members.