Tribune Mizzou athletics reporter Eric Blum spoke with Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ahead of Missouri's season finale against Arkansas in Little Rock on Friday afternoon.
Holt has covered Arkansas athletics for nearly 40 years, starting on the beat in 1981. The Cape Girardeau native graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism.
He shared his thoughts on the Razorbacks’ current slide, Missouri’s NCAA sanctions being upheld and more.
The conversation has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
Blum: In your time covering Arkansas football, is this one of the roughest stretches you can remember?
Holt: From parts of 2012 through parts of 2014, I covered teams that lost 17 straight Southeastern Conference games. I figured that’s never going to happen again. Now I’m covering a team that’s lost 18 straight SEC games going back to two years ago. This is the worst stretch. Arkansas never lost 10 games in a season until last year and now. If it doesn’t upset Missouri, it’ll lose 10 games in back-to-back years. And this year, the Razorbacks haven’t just lost to SEC teams. They lost to San Jose State and really got annihilated by Western Kentucky. Last year, they got blown out at home by North Texas. They haven’t just been losing — they’re losing at historically bad proportions.
Blum: Where is the light at the end of the tunnel for the Razorbacks?
Holt: I don’t know. To me, it would be huge if Arkansas could beat Missouri because at least the seniors can end their careers on a high note and the returning players would have something to build on in the offseason. To carry this losing streak into another season would be an albatross around their name. It reminds me of 2016 when I think Missouri was 3-8 and Arkansas went to Columbia and was up 24-7 at halftime, then lost the game. Missouri head coach Barry Odom called a fake punt from around his own 7-yard line and converted it, scored and won the game. That led to their pretty successful 2017 season where the Tigers went to the Texas Bowl. That Missouri team is better than this Arkansas team, but it could have a similar effect. If Arkansas doesn’t win Friday, I’m not sure when its next SEC win is going to be.
Blum: Do you think Missouri vs. Arkansas is a manufactured SEC rivalry or a genuine one?
Holt: It’s called the Battle Line Rivalry for marketing purposes, I believe. Former Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema accidentally a few years ago called it the Border Line Rivalry. But it’s kind of a border line rivalry. The teams didn’t have a whole lot of history before 2014. They played in some bowl games, but Missouri has really dominated in the SEC. I think it could develop into one eventually — the whole trophy thing feels a bit forced — but they are border states. However, three Fayetteville High grads (Taylor Powell, Barrett Banister and Akial Byers) play for Missouri and only two play for Arkansas. I think that adds to it a little bit. I think Arkansas is going to have to beat Missouri a few times to develop a back and forth. That’s how you develop a rivalry.
Blum: What are your thoughts on the NCAA denying Missouri’s appeal of sanctions and upholding every previously announced penalty?
Holt: It reminds me of something (longtime UNLV men’s basketball coach) Jerry Tarkanian said. He had a long-standing feud, you could say, with the NCAA. He had this saying in the 1980s after Cleveland State beat heavily favored Indiana in the NCAA Tournament and then CSU got some sanctions within the next year or two. I remember Tarkanian said something like: “The NCAA was so mad at Kentucky they gave Cleveland State two more years of probation.” The idea being that the NCAA will protect its sacred cows like North Carolina. With Missouri, it has a real chilling effect. I know Missouri cooperated and did some of the NCAA’s work for them, and probably did some things the NCAA doesn’t have the manpower to do. It really didn’t mean anything. It’s like if you commit a crime, and there was obviously some academic fraud there, but you cooperated with the authorities, usually they lessen the sentence. It’s disappointing. You feel bad for the players that had nothing to do with this stuff.
Blum: Who is the most impressive athlete you have seen in your time covering Arkansas sports?
Holt: I covered Mike Conley Sr., the father of NBA basketball player Mike Conley Jr., who plays for the Grizzlies. Conley Sr. was on the Arkansas track and field team. He was a triple jumper and he won an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and won a silver medal when he was a junior at Arkansas in 1984. I know track athletes tend to get overlooked, but he could’ve played college basketball. In high school, Conley played football, basketball, ran track and maybe some other stuff. But he was a world-class athlete and his son is pretty good, too.