By Kempton Smith, Appalachian State Alumnus and Contributor to BGP

The Mountaineer’s dominance of Sunbelt Conference titles began in 2016; the same year Arkansas State last had a share of the Sunbelt title.  Arkansas State was one of the winningest football teams in the Sunbelt. The Red Wolves match Troy for most conference titles (6), yet on Halloween 2021, they have no post-season hope.

Current Football Status

After a disappointing 2020 campaign ended at 4-7, A-State’s administration wanted a change. They assisted 7-year Head Coach Blake Anderson in his plans to move to Utah State.  The University lowered his buy-out to make it easier for Utah State to hire him.

Later the same month, the Red Wolves announced Butch Jones’ appointment as the new football coach.  Jones had 12 years of head coaching experience, including his time at Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and Tennessee and three seasons as an assistant to Nick Saban at Alabama.  In an October 2021 article, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on Anderson’s vision for A-State and a new culture that will elevate Red Wolves football to an “SEC-level program.” Jones stressed that cultural transformation takes more time but will be more satisfying.

With a one-win season, Red Wolves’ expectations remain low this year.  But it has been said a team with nothing to lose has everything to win.  Defeating the leader of the east division would be a signature win for A-State.  A reclaiming win over App State in front of a home crowd in early November would be a prize that might also help recruit.

Red Wolves vs. Black and Gold Football Culture

Parking Lot, Stands, Scoreboard

Regardless of tailgating plans, fans in Jonesboro are encouraged to arrive early and stay late.  Parking lots open 8 hours before big games. Tents must be removed by 5:00 pm THE DAY AFTER the game.  Multi-day camping is not discouraged.  Tailgating at A-State has differences from App.  Some areas are designated for vehicle parking only.  Other lots are traditional first-come-first-served park and party locations.  Often generators are brought so big-screen TVs can show other games or replay last week’s win.

Closer to the stadium, the Red Wolves Club (A-State’s Yosef Club) developed another option for tailgating.  Fans can buy access to a traffic-minimized lot with deluxe tents, tables, and chairs set up and waiting for the fans to arrive.  Bigger tent sites with more tables and folding chairs cost more.  Sites can be purchased through a “Season Tailgate Package” that preserves the same location all-season, or a single game option. Only one (supply) vehicle per site is allowed, which minimizes traffic.  Fewer traffic risks allow more fun.  Activities include live bands, interactive games, and a family fun zone.

The additional fund-raising opportunity shows up in the Red Wolves Club funding of athletics. While the contributions from donors are about the same, the income for A-State’s Red Wolves Foundation (from investment income and extra programs like this) exceeds App’s Yosef Club.  Red Wolves contributed about $4.3m in 2019 and had approximately $4.7m in other program income.  This translated to $8.9m in support from the booster club.

This idea has caught on.  The proceeds are directed as contributions to football and have helped elevate the budget for football.  Since 2015, Arkansas State spending on football has exceeded the Sunbelt and FBS medians significantly.  They spent over $19m in 2017, $21m in 2018 and nearly $15m in 2019.  App State (through 2019) has not broken the $10m thresholds.

The growth in football spending indicates that A-State boosters want a top-notch football program.  The several years of support from fans and contributers affirm alignment with Butch Jones’ plans to transform football.

A-State is also battling fan fatigue.  Fan attendance has dwindled as the program faded from the Sunbelt spotlight.  The average football attendance peaked in the 2014 season at 24,861 and has decreased to 20,600 through 2019.  2021 attendance is remarkably down.  Game 1 started at 15,600, and by game four against rival ULL, the game’s attendance was reportedly 7,138.

Good culture is more than just tailgating, attendance, and fund-raising. A good program needs good rivals.  Regardless of a bad season, a win against a rival can make the lousy season more bearable.  It is reported that A-State has three rivals.  The longest-standing rivalry (59 seasons) is with Memphis.  Their annual game is called the Paint Bucket Bowl.  The series record is 23-31-5, with Memphis leading the series.  Fans also consider the series with ULL to be a major rivalry.   The Red Wolves are behind in that series, too (19-24-1).  The Red Wolves lead the ULM Warhawks (their third rival) 27-14-0, with this matchup scheduled on 11/13 at Monroe.  A-State has won the last 11 games in the series against ULM.

Black and Gold Football Culture Summary: App wins the culture battle due to the recent scoreboard combined with dwindling fans, but here is a program to watch as it re-develops.

Saturday’s Reality

Facing facts, most of us won’t drive 9 hours this weekend (each way) to watch a game we should easily win. Let’s tune in, boost the ratings on ESPN+, and pull for a decisive Mountaineer win.  Ark State has come close in several games.  This should be an easy win, but it feels dangerous.

Findings on Arkansas State Academics and Student Life

These two universities have little in common.  Arkansas State started as an agricultural college in 1909 (10 years after App) and evolved to an Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) School.  In 2016, the University opened its offering of a Medical School in partnership with the New York Institute of Technology (Osteopathic Medicine).  The campuses are 500 miles apart, in different time zones, and on different sides of the Mississippi.  App State has a significantly larger student enrollment and a larger number of on-campus students.

The few traits in common:  As the names imply, both are state-supported.  The most common fields of study are similar with Nursing, Business Admin, Early Childhood Education and Biology common favorites among the two student bodies.

Metric Arkansas State Appalachian State
Total Enrollment 13,106 20,023
Undergraduates 8,486 18.061
In State % 87% 93%
In State Tuition $8,900 $7,950
Out of State Tuition $16,070 $23,557
Student to faculty ratio 14:1 16:1
Avg SAT Range 1000-1220 1070-1240
Overall Ranking (US News) Between 300 and 391

National Universities

#6 Regional Universities (South)
Best Program Rank #109 (US) Best Undergrad Engineering

#288 (US)  Nursing

#1 (South) Most Innovative

#2 (South) Best Undergraduate Teaching