Mizzou to face new Border War foe Arkansas

ST. LOUIS – A new Border War is born.

Oh sure, it will take time to gain closure from the loss of Kansas-Missouri. It will take time to move on from a century-old spat that gave fans on both sides of the state line bold characters (Don Fambrough), classic memories (Armageddon at Arrowhead in 2007; Thomas Robinson’s block of Phil Pressey last February) and a desire to see it all continue (why can’t somebody work this out?).

Yes, it will take time to accept a new normal after Missouri joins the Southeastern Conference on July 1, because messy breakups are about emotion – not reason – and the hate among some in each fan base won’t stop after the Tigers set their sights on the South.

But that’s exactly where Missouri will look, about 300 miles from the Columns on Francis Quadrangle, to find its next border feud. On Friday, the SEC paired the Tigers (East) and Razorbacks (West) as cross-division rivals, ensuring the neighbors will meet each fall as part of the league’s new eight-game scheduling format. The same goes for the 18-game men’s basketball slate.

Goodbye, old. Hello, new. Change means progress, and Border War II can be good for Missouri.

“Arkansas-Missouri is a natural border rival,” Missouri athletic director Mike Alden told the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune. “Plus, there’s lots of similarities … between the fan base for the Razorbacks and the fan base for the Tigers.”

There are shared traits, and Missouri and Arkansas will learn those with time. But it will take time. MU-KU was great in part because of history – the series had roots in the Civil War – but also because the schools are so much alike.

They are flagship institutions that churn out graduates trained to despise black and gold or crimson and blue, depending on your side of State Line Road. Rivalries like MU-Nebraska in football and KU-Kansas State in basketball gained traction in the late 2000s, but none matched MU-KU’s passion. Kansas City became the epicenter of all this, of course, and a debate raged for years whether the City of Fountains looked east or west for its collegiate heart.

“Just remember,” interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas told reporters Friday, “the first part of the city’s name is ‘Kansas.'”

Genuine dislike, the kind that causes uproar about possible Jayhawks on Missouri license plates and outrage after the Kansas fight song was played in a morning announcement at an elementary school in Lee’s Summit, Mo., won’t happen with Border War II. At least not yet.

That’s because the history between Missouri and Arkansas is thin. The Tigers lead the football series 3-2, with the last game at the Cotton Bowl in 2008, when Missouri routed an uninspired Arkansas team playing under interim coach Reggie Herring. Earlier, before the Razorbacks’ victory at the 2003 Independence Bowl, Missouri and Arkansas hadn’t met since 1963.

However, their connection on the hardwood is stronger. The Razorbacks lead the series 19-18. The last game, an Arkansas victory, happened in 2007 on a day when then-Missouri coach Mike Anderson returned to the site where he spent 17 seasons as an assistant under Nolan Richardson.

Of course, Anderson will enter his second campaign as the head coach in Fayetteville this winter. He’s someone who can spark Border War II. He’s controversial in Columbia because of his veiled escape following his decision to take the Arkansas job in March 2011. Meanwhile, he left Missouri players Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers to stagger through a hastily called news conference about the program’s unclear future.

Border War II needs villains, because polarizing figures made MU-KU a gem. Fambrough, a former Kansas football coach, became the face of disdain, but there were other examples, too. Former Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart drew chants of “Sit down, Norm!” at Allen Fieldhouse, and Tigers wide receiver T.J. Moe made his lifelong hatred for the Jayhawks known when he said in 2010 that he wants to burn a Kansas T-shirt every time he sees one.

Each generation produced memorable faces in the Kansas-Missouri series. Border War II must do the same to thrive.

“I believe that the Arkansas and Missouri series will develop into a competitive rivalry in all sports for both institutions,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a release. “With our close proximity, both schools will have the opportunity for fans to travel to events and help spread the reach of the Southeastern Conference within the region.”

Yes, there’s potential in Border War II, but that’s all it is for now.

Mourning the end of Kansas-Missouri is necessary. But the Tigers will learn history is waiting to be made to the south.