The SEC West has its answer to the World's Largest Cocktail Party*.
Texas A&M and Arkansas announced Wednesday that their new SEC divisional series will be moved back to Arlington's Cowboys Stadium on a long-term basis starting in 2014. The two schools have agreed to play at the neutral site for at least 10 years, through the 2024 season.
The Aggies and Razorbacks were three years into a planned 10-year arrangement when A&M's jump to the SEC (and some of the league recruiting regulations that affect neutral-site games) helped force a two-year on-campus hiatus, with the 2012 meeting slated for College Station's Kyle Field and the 2013 edition for Fayetteville's Razorback Stadium. One Aggie official even reportedly said that A&M "never" wanted to play the game in Arlington again.
But the Razorbacks have been consistently in favor of keeping the game at the neutral site, and in February the schools agreed to move back to Jerry Jones's football palace for at least the 2014 season. Wednesday's announcement now makes the move permanent for the forseeable future.
It's worth noting A&M may not have had much choice in the matter; per San Antonio Express-News reporter Brent Zwerneman, Jones is holding the Aggies to their original contract. Though the SEC switch allowed them to move the game temporarily, Zwerneman reports that keeping it there would have cost A&M "stiff financial penalties."
Florida and Georgia could tell you that annually holding one of your eight SEC games at a neutral site also comes with certain drawbacks--namely, hosting only three SEC home games every other year. Despite their willingness to keep the series in Arlington, that's of particular concern to Arkansas, which traditionally plays one SEC home game a year at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.
With the Razorbacks having already switched the LSU game to Fayetteville after some 20 years of hosting it in Little Rock, that tradition seems to be in more jeopardy than ever ... unless the SEC makes the move to a nine-game schedule.
Given the teams' contractual issues, it's unlikely the decision to go back to Arlington permanently had anything to do with behind-the-scenes lumbering towards an extra SEC game. But with both teams (and the Hogs in particular) now having that much more incentive to help push for the ninth game, it seems likely the league as a whole just took one more small step in that direction.
*We'll propose calling it the World's Largest Shiner Bock Party.