Although students probably began competing in intramural contests early in the university’s history, the first intercollegiate games in football, tennis, baseball, and track and field, didn’t occur until about 1894.
The early football games were played on the front lawn of Old Main, but were soon moved to a level area approximately where the Fine Arts Center now stands, and the university track was just to the north of it.
Originally known as the Cardinals because of the school color, the mascot was changed after the 1909 football season, when Arkansas went undefeated. Sportswriters and students had begun referring to the Arkansas team as the “razor-backs” as early as 1905, and Coach Hugo Bezdek popularized the name in 1909, reportedly saying after the LSU game that his team had “played like a wild band of razorbacks.”
Arkansas won its first national championship in 1964, when the football team went undefeated under coach Frank Broyles. Twenty years later, in 1984, the men’s cross country team won the university’s next national championship under coach John McDonnell. The team wasted no time waiting for another title, winning the indoor and outdoor track and field championships in the spring of 1985 to also become the first team in the nation to win the Triple Crown of track and field. The men’s track team now holds 41 national championships, the most recent added in 2013 under coach Chris Bucknam. In 1994, coach Nolan Richardson took his men’s basketball team to the national championship, defeating Duke University. And in 2015 and 2016, the women’s track and field team won its first national indoor and outdoor championships, respectively, under coach Lance Harter. Today, Arkansas is ranked sixth in the nation for total number of Division I national championships.
The University of Arkansas athletics program is one of the few in the United States that operates within the revenue that it generates. Neither state taxes nor student tuition is used to fund athletics, which instead is funded through gifts to the program, ticket sales, licensing and broadcast contracts.
Today, the athletics department operates 19 teams: baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, football, men's and women's golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball.
Along with the NCAA athletics, though, the university has developed a deep program of club sports, intramural competition and recreational sports, including an outdoor recreation program more than 40 years old. From hockey and rugby to rock climbing and canoeing, the university offers an outdoor sport for every student. The university's Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building was paid for in part by students, who approved an additional fee to help pay for its construction. It remains a center of activity on campus.