LITTLE ROCK — New to the job of Arkansas State University athletics director, Terry Mohajir was talking future football schedules with ASU fans who dreamed out loud.
Wouldn’t it be great, one said, if ASU could play Texas in Little Rock?
Mohajir countered with, Why not Texas in Jonesboro?
They wouldn’t come to Jonesboro, the dreamer said.
Have you ever asked? Mohajir said.
Hired last September, Mohajir is not afraid to ask any BCS school about scheduling the Red Wolves and the man can sell. Already, he has succeeded to the point that ASU has a home and home with Missouri and is a signature or two away from securing the same with Miami. It is not the Tigers nor the Hurricanes that got my attention, but the fact that teams from the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference are going to play in Jonesboro in a straight-up, on-for-one deal.
For example, with Missouri, the home team pays the visitor $250,000 and the Tigers’ buyout is large enough that ASU will turn a nice profit if Missouri reneges.
In years past, ASU vs. a team from a BCS conference was a one-way street and strictly about money. Ole Miss in 2001 was the last football team from a BCS conference to play in Jonesboro.
Mohajir is in contract discussions with a Pac-12 team for a home and home, all part of a grand plan. "We have to be fearless as a program, but also strategic," he said.
To him, scheduling is not a science, but an art. He goes about it with several things in mind, including the athletic department budget, a competitive advantage, and expansion of ASU’s season ticket base.
"Possibly building a national brand would be a fourth," he said. "In order to build a brand, you have to beat those teams and you can’t beat them unless you play them."
The budget thing is self-explanatory — ASU needs a million-dollar payday per year. Negotiating with a Tennessee or a Pac-12 team for a one-time payday, he is certain that ASU is worth $1 million and he will move on to another A.D. if a school insists on paying less. "It’s about being confident about who you are and how you talk to people," said the former ASU defensive player. "We believe we have value."
He avoids labeling such outings money games. "That becomes negative," he said. "We want it to be positive. Aren’t we lucky to get to test …"
Claiming a competitive advantage was a head-scratcher until Mohajir explained that the idea is to play BCS teams early in the season, when he believes they are more vulnerable. Along those lines, note that the second game of the Missouri series is Sept. 12, 2015. The Miami game could be as early as the second Saturday in a September.
He is fond of calling contests with BCS teams "advance training games."
"We have to measure where we are as a program," he said. It’s like playing golf, he said, counting all strokes is the only way to get an accurate score.
Playing the marquee game in Jonesboro makes an already inexpensive season ticket even more attractive and is a carrot for people to travel to Northeast Arkansas. "The power of having someone in every seat far outweighs anything else," he said. That includes filling the 600 club seats and 240 loge seats that will be available when the indoor practice facility in the North end zone is complete.
A lesser opponent — an Idaho, for instance — is ideal for Little Rock where a ticket would be one game only. Down the line, a long-term series with Memphis, an hour from Jonesboro, would be a natural.
Blank when Mohajir was hired, his non-conference schedule turned heads. The next step is to retain that attention with a W over a name opponent.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.