SYSTEM’S ATHLETIC DIRECTORS map out dates to start football.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek laid out on Monday a bestcase plan for starting football on time this fall that included a June 1 reopening of weight room and training room facilities on campus for student athletes.
Yurachek discussed the scenario during a video conference meeting with the University of Arkansas System trustees and his fellow football-playing athletic directors Chris Peterson at University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Padraic McMeel of the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
“On the heels of the governor’s announcement to open health clubs across the state of Arkansas today … we are working on a plan to open our strength and conditioning rooms, as well as our training rooms on June 1 on our campus for voluntary workouts for our student-athletes who live in the area,” Yurachek said.
The SEC has been operating since mid March under a
suspension of all athletic-related activities on member campuses through May 31. The Razorbacks are scheduled to open their football season on Sept. 5 against Nevada at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, and both Yurachek and Coach Sam Pittman have expressed hope Arkansas can open its season on that date.
When asked by trustee Kelly Eichler when the Razorbacks would need to start practicing to open the season on time, Yurachek replied, “I think it would be six weeks out, roughly July 15.
“We would have a couple of weeks of an acclimation period where our student-athletes would have some strength and conditioning training as well as some walk-throughs and team meetings that would head into our regularly scheduled fall camp that is scheduled to start on Aug. 5. I think if we can get to a schedule where, at the latest, July 15 we have our fall sports student-athletes on campus, I think we have a really good chance of starting our football season on time.”
Yurachek, Peterson and McMeel all provided status reports on their athletic departments to the board and talked about the economic impact football has on their programs.
“We would love to play football in the fall and we would look at a start date … if things are good on July 1, reporting to campus August 1 for hopefully playing in September,” Peterson said, adding the provision that scenario meant UAPB was providing in-person instruction by that time.
Peterson said Southwestern Athletic Conference chancellors and presidents will talk in late June to provide input for an announcement of some type by July 1.
“The SWAC is looking at a July 1 date to evaluate our membership and the feasibility of playing football in the fall of 2020, which we all very much would like to do,” Peterson said. “The ability to test, monitor, sanitize and quarantine and the associated costs are serious concerns by all, and I’m sure they are with all FCS schools throughout the country.”
McMeel said he and the command team at UAM have been communicating with officials from the NCAA Division II Great American Conference, which includes six schools in Arkansas and six in Oklahoma.
“For us, I think it’s critical, just like it is for the other two [UA system] institutions, that we are playing sports in the fall,” McMeel said. “But if we do it, we’re going to do it the right way. We’re going to do it safely and we’ll have everybody’s best interests in play.”
McMeel said about 14% of UAM’s student enrollment is student-athletes and another 4.75% are in the band.
“So when you really start looking at what band and athletics look like, that’s really about 20 percent of our total population that would be impacted if we’re not playing football this year,” he said. “And quite frankly all the other sports as well.
“We had the best year we ever had last year as far as attendance. We had our best concessions ever. We were trending where we wanted to be in that our student-engagement was at an all-time high and we want to continue that momentum.”
All three athletic directors told board chairman John Goodson that the budgets they prepared for fiscal year 2020-21 include projected revenues associated with football, and if the season is modified or postponed that substantial revisions to the budgets would have to be made.
Yurachek said he has stressed to the department that three groups would need to be confident for the football season to open in early September: student-athletes and their parents; staff members; and fans.
He said the confidence piece begins by having “a plan in place to mitigate and minimize their risk and their son and daughter’s risk of [contracting] covid-19. We don’t have a cure.
“We can’t eliminate the risk, but we can minimize the risk by how we disinfect our facilities, by the number of student-athletes we allow in our facilities, by our coaches wearing masks while they’re instructing student-athletes in those facilities.
“That third group is, if we get to the fall and have a season, that our fans feel comfortable coming back to our venues, that we have created an environment in how we sanitize our venues, how we queue people in line to get into our venues, how we queue them in line for concessions, etc., that they … have the confidence to re-engage with us.”
Last week the NCAA released a document titled “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport,” with nine key items suggested by the NCAA’s Covid-19 Advisory Panel that must be followed before college athletics can return.
Yurachek said SEC leadership is working on plans to start the football season on time as he and others in the league have maintained for a few weeks.
“As a conference, we are focusing on that date and starting a 12-game season, along with a soccer season, a volleyball season and a cross country season,” Yurachek said. “I think the piece of that puzzle is are all our campuses open to students? And if that’s the case, that’s kind of the first hurdle that I see for our department of athletics in having a football season.
“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 was asked by trustee Ed Fryar if the potential June 1 date for reopening weight rooms and training rooms was conference wide.
“It may not be conference wide,” Yurachek said. “I can’t speak for every other campus. But what we’re discussing as athletic directors, that we hope to get in front of the presidents and chancellors in the next week or two is approval for that June 1 date.
“Now each campus is a little bit different. So, while we may have the ability on June 1 to have our student-athletes back on a voluntary basis, every campus may not follow suit.”
Peterson noted 22 of UAPB’s football players are from in state, and the vast majority of the rest are from nearby states Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Texas.
“So … we feel a little bit better about most of our student-athletes as being in this quadrant of the United States, compared to if they were from California or Washington,” Peterson said. “It might be a little bit easier to test and monitor.
“The expenses of testing, monitoring and sanitizing are a concern, because we’re functioning a 16-sport Division I athletic program on a somewhat limited budget, which there’s a lot of us on our level that do that.”
McMeel said there have been plenty of discussions about what the Division II season might look like.
“There has been everything from a reduction of the number of games required, so possibly playing seven to 10 games, instead of the normal 11 at the Division II level and how would that impact our season,” McMeel said.
“Just like everybody, we’re sort of waiting to hear what we’re able to do, either through the NCAA and any legislation they may implement or change for at least this one year. I think some of the things that could happen may just be a one-year thing is what we’re hoping, and then maybe we could get back to the norm.”