Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek outlined a plan for a return to normalcy for Arkansas’ sports landscape Monday in a video conference meeting with the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees.
There is nothing more normal in the state than Razorback football, and Yurachek, a member of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s economic committee for reopening business in the state, lifted the veil on the plan that would put the Hogs back on the playing field as scheduled on Sept. 5 against Nevada in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Now, the plan isn’t a certainty. It’s more of a best-case scenario for the return of Razorback athletics after the novel coronavirus prompted the Southeastern Conference to shut down all athletic activities across its 14 campuses through May 31 in an effort to help flatten the infection curve of the virus.
Arkansas, like other states, is in the midst of reopening its businesses. If that goes smoothly without a strong rebound of infectious cases across the SEC footprint and around the rest of the nation, the plan that Yurachek outlined Monday will continue to move forward.
However, if that is not the case, other contingencies will be put into place and the plans would have to change.
Around July 15, Yurachek said, Arkansas football, volleyball, soccer and cross country teams would begin to train as units with walk-through practices and meetings. Traditional preseason practices would begin in early August ahead of each of the sports beginning play on schedule. Arkansas’ football practices are scheduled to begin Aug. 5.
Yurachek, who said earlier this spring that he had daily Zoom meetings with his fellow SEC athletic directors and the conference offices, said that the SEC is planning on starting the season on time.
That is the best-case scenario, and hopefully that is the way the Razorbacks and the rest of the SEC can proceed.
Yurachek said for the fall sports schedule to go forward as planned, the student-athletes, their parents, and fans must feel comfortable. That will only come if the reopening of the economy around the state and nation occurs without overwhelming spikes of coronavirus infections.
The first key scenario Yurachek laid out is for students to be allowed back on campus. Yurachek called that the first hurdle that the UA must get over.
“Obviously that’s something that’s determined by our university chancellor, our system president and the members of our board of trustees, with direction from our governor and health department if that is to be the case,” Yurachek said.
Earlier this spring, Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman said during an appearance on “The Paul Finebaum Show” that the UA was planning to reopen its dorms on June 29, which would be in conjunction with the second session of summer classes at the UA.
Now, I’ve not seen where that bit of information that Pittman spoke of has been confirmed as of yet by any other UA representative, but I’ve no reason to doubt the Hogs’ head coach. That said, circumstances are ever shifting, and Pittman’s feet shouldn’t be held to the fire over that comment by anyone.
But if students are allowed to move back in the UA dorms in early July, that would give time for all the student-athletes participating in fall sports to be back on campus in dorms or living in other accommodations in Fayetteville.
When the UA closed in March before spring break, student-athletes who lived in the dorms had to move off campus. Student-athletes who were living in apartments had the option of staying in Fayetteville.
The percentage of UA student-athletes who remained in Fayetteville is not known, but graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks, who formerly played for Florida, said in a conference call last month that several Razorback receivers join him for player-organized passing sessions a couple of times a week.
Franks is the odds-on candidate to be the Razorbacks’ starter at quarterback based on his experience with the Gators, and the inexperience of the other QBs on the roster.
The student-athletes who remained in Fayetteville would be able to use Arkansas’ training facilities on June 1, based on what Yurachek told the Board of Trustees in the video meeting.
By Yurachek mentioning the reopening of those facilities June 1, one has to assume he knows the the the SEC will not be extending its ban on athletic activities past May 31.
Currently under SEC guidelines, its teams are able to meet with players virtually for eight hours a week. One assumes that will carry on until in-person walk-through workouts are allowed to begin around July 15.
While the 15 spring practices the Razorbacks lost won’t be made up under the scenario outlined by Yurachek, all SEC football coaching staffs are having more contact with their players than usual with the eight-hours of virtual meeting time.
The walk-through practices that Yurachek outlined for mid July have not been allowed previously. If the teams are able to use a ball during them as Pittman has championed, the football teams will not only have more summer instruction than ever before but also more valuable summer instruction.
While that’s not an advantage for the Razorbacks, it no doubt will be very useful for Pittman, his staff and players.
If the scenario Yurachek laid out for the Board of Trustees does work out, it will be interesting to see what happens this season.
The teams that make the best use of their virtual meetings this spring and the walk-throughs this summer could create an advantage for themselves in the fall. How much that advantage could mean is unknowable at this point, but it could be considerable.
Even if the coronavirus hadn’t struck, this was going to be a time of change in the SEC West with Arkansas, Mississippi State (Mike Leach), and Ole Miss (Lane Kiffin) all hiring new coaches.
Is there a chance for Arkansas to leapfrog Ole Miss or Mississippi State in this time of transition?
It sure smells like a make-or-break year for Jimbo Fisher in Aggie Land, and while Auburn could have the best team in the league this year, Gus Malzahn always seems like he’s one loss away from the hot seat On the Plaines.
Alabama works through change as well as any college program, but the Crimson Tide will have to deal with a quarterback question without the benefit of spring practice.
And what about defending national champions LSU? It seems like the Tigers lost almost an entire national championship team to the the NFL Draft. Do they still have enough to hold off Auburn and Alabama at the top of the toughest league in America and defend their title?
I don’t have any of those answers, but I sure hope we get them this fall with a full season slate of college football.