FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas vice-chancellor and director of athletics Hunter Yurachek participated on a Zoom call Thursday to discuss the plan for SEC Football this fall.
The SEC will play a 10-game conference-only schedule beginning Sept. 26. The SEC Championship Game originally slated for Dec. 5 has been moved to Dec. 19. Yurachek discussed how they arrived at this format.
“I think we felt like, based on again the counsel we received from the medical task force, that this was still going to be, that COVID was still going to be a major issue in the southeast for the next few weeks and this gave us the best opportunity just to push the start back,” Yurachek said. “It also gives us an opportunity for school to start on each of our campuses and for our campuses to return back to a sense of normalcy. As opposed to campus coming back and then two weeks later we’re trying to play our first football game. As we talked to the presidents and chancellors, it was their desire to try to get campus up and running before we tried to play football games as well.”
The Razorbacks were originally slated to host Nevada on Sept. 5 in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. But that game along with the trip to Notre Dame and then home games with Charleston Southern and ULM have been canceled. Arkansas was set to open SEC play on Sept. 19 at Mississippi State, but that obviously won’t happen now either.
In addition, Arkansas has two neutral site games scheduled with Texas A&M in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium on Sept. 26 and then against Missouri in Kansas City to close out the regular season. Yurachek talked about the status of those two games.
“You know our schedule will change as far as the dates when we play those eight SEC games will remain the same the dates for many of those games we anticipate to change,” Yurachek said. “Whether that impacts the game in Kansas City with Missouri I haven’t heard yet from Jim Sterk officially, but I know it’s Texas A&M’s desire now with only having five home games with a 10-game schedule to move the game from AT&T Stadium to Kyle Field this year. We’ll continue to work, Ross and I, to get together with the Jones family and the staff at AT&T Stadium to see if we can make that work this year.”
Yurachek said later he expects the Missouri game to be moved to Columbia as well. He also addressed the status of fans at Arkansas’ home games.
“We do anticipate fans to be in Razorback Stadium,” Yurachek said. “We have had continuing conversations with the Arkansas Department of Health and staff there as we put together them an operation’s plan. As you look at their current phase two parameters it says 66-percent capacity. So with social distancing if you follow all those guidelines we’ll never get to 66-percent capacity.
“We will probably get closer to 25-percent capacity with social distancing guidelines. That plan is continuing to be put together and we’re in communications with the staff at the Arkansas Department of Health and staff. Our plan is to have fans in the stands. It won’t look like it has in the past, but if we had to play a game this Saturday it would be roughly 25-percent capacity.”
On July 16, Yurachek said he felt the chances of a football season were 50-50. Today he has a much more optimistic outlook.
“I’m about 90-10 that it’s gonna happen,” Yurachek said. “I think this gives us as we talked to medical experts throughout the southeast that has been part of SEC Medical Task Force. Pushing it back to the 26th of September and having 13 weeks to play 10 conference games gives us the best opportunity to play a football season that isn’t interrupted.”
Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman also addressed the situation with the new schedule.
“The most important part of all of this is keeping our student-athletes healthy and safe,” Pittman said “I think this plan accomplishes that while giving our players the chance to compete. I’m so appreciative of Hunter, Chancellor (Joseph) Steinmetz, Commissioner (Greg) Sankey and administration from around the league and the SEC for their long hours and efforts to ensure our student-athletes are safe and healthy while getting the chance to compete this fall. Our staff is already working on plans to get our team ready to go. Our entire program is excited to know we’re going to play football starting September 26.”
Of course with the six divisional rivals plus Tennessee and Missouri already on the schedule Yurachek was asked about the other two games to be added? Rumors have Georgia and South Carolina playing the Hogs, but Yurachek didn’t say that.
“Mark Womack, who is the football administrator for the Southeastern Conference, what he’s assured us is he will give us the best scheduling option for the Southeastern Conference,” Yurachek said. “And so what that looks like … Here’s the thing, as you know we’re trying to get 14 athletic directors and 14 coaches to agree on what those additional two games are going to be it’s never going to happen. I trust that Mark Wommack will do a great job in putting our schedule together.”
Yurachek wouldn’t bite when asked by a reporter who were the two schools he wanted. He talked about when a decision might come in regard to Arkansas’ other two games.
“We should have a model here in the next week to 10 days of what our schedule will look like,” Yurachek said. “What we know is the four home games, which is Ole Miss, Tennessee, Alabama and LSU, those games will be at home, and then we’ll go on the road, again, most likely to Kyle Field for Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Auburn and Missouri. And then we’ll have two additional games.
“So you can take the five other teams from the East that we don’t play, that aren’t our cross-over games, and that’s Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, and we’re going to play one of those five teams at home and the other one at one of those other five teams on the road.”
He did address Arkansas’ practice situation now with the season opener delayed by three weeks.
“Camp will still start on the 7th, or practice,” Yurachek said. “It’ll look dramatically different from what fall camps have looked like in the past. Our coaches will not be forced to compress six weeks of instruction and practice into three weeks. So we still plan on starting on the 7th, but that will look dramatically different. That won’t be putting in the 40- 50- 60-hour weeks that sometimes these coaches and student-athletes put in during those couple of weeks of fall camp. It’ll be more like a regular week of practice for them.”
Arkansas is coming off back-to-back 2-10 seasons and is anxious to get back on the winning track.
Yurachek feels this is a beneficial plan for Pittman and his staff since they didn’t get to have spring football.