FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas vice-chancellor and director of athletics Hunter Yurachek participated in a Zoom conference with beat reporters Thursday afternoon.
Yurachek obviously addressed the chances of fall sports and some of the options available to Arkansas and the SEC. He provided an interesting response when asked about the possibility of fall sports in his opinion?
“I would say it’s mediocre to be honest and very transparent,” Yurachek said. “Mediocre, it’s not as high as it was a month ago. Obviously what has trended across our country with this virus the past 4-6 weeks is not at all what we had expected. At least not what I had expected. I thought as we sat in May and made a decision to bring our student-athletes back come June 8. I would have said back then we had a much better opportunity for this to happen.
“But things can happen quickly. They changed quickly in the wrong direction for us. I think if everybody will do our part as far as wearing the mask and social distancing that we still have a great chance to have fall sports this year.”
Mediocre can be defined in different ways. Yurachek clarified what he meant by saying that.
“I’d say mediocre is just what it sounds like,” Yurachek said. “I’m 50/50 right now. I’ll tell you that a month ago I was probably 70/30. As athletic directors and administrators in this field, we are looking for someone that is a lot smarter than all of us to give us direction. Commissioner (Greg) Sankey has been incredible throughout, from March to right now. But, he’s not a medical professional.
“You have one medical professional who may tell you something and another tells you something totally different. Some of that has to do with the data. We just don’t know, whether you’re a medical professional or not, enough about this virus to make really good decisions. So, you just have to make the best decisions you can.
“I don’t want to say putting people’s lives in jeopardy is like playing a game of poker, but sometimes you have to make decisions with the information you know and make the best decision possible. It’s kind of like a poker game. You know what you have in your hand, but you don’t know what card is getting ready to get turned over when you’re playing that game. You just have to make the best decisions with the information that you have, and that’s what we are trying to do as administrators. We feel that we will have better information the deeper we go into the summer before making this decision.”
Yurachek even looked back at some of the decisions made in March to cancel some seasons and feels maybe it could have been handled differently.
“This is a virus and there’s been peaks and valleys of this thing since it started,” Yurachek said. “We’ve learned a great deal. I think as we look back in March back when this all started that we made a quick and hasty decision in my opinion as a nation to cancel at least spring sports. I think as we look back now I think there’s a way for us to get in and modify baseball and softball and tennis and golf seasons with the social distancing that naturally exists in some of those sports. I think this is something we’ve just got to be patient with.”
Yurachek said the UA has had less than 10 student-athletes and two staff members test positive for COVID-19 so far. All but one is back.
“Meaning that all those that have tested positive [except one] have returned either to their voluntary workouts or to their work environment,” Yurachek said. “On the basis of contact tracing from those positive tests we currently have up to 20 student-athletes that are still in some phase of their 14-day quarantine period. But each one of those student-athletes have tested negative.”
On Thursday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson stated a mandatory mandate to wear a mask in the state will go into place on Monday. Yurachek was pleased with that decision.
“I fully support the Governor and I fully support my good friend Doug McMillon and the staff at Walmart the decision they made,” Yurachek said. “I fully support the Board of Trustees in our system and the decision they made. It’s a shame, in my opinion, that wearing a mask has become a political decision. To me it’s just the right thing to do from what we’ve heard from medical personnel. Me and my family are active mask wearers as are all our staff members that have come to work. It’s the right thing to do not only for yourself, but everyone you come in contact with.”
Hypothetically, what would it take for fall sports to not be played this fall?
“I think we live in the hypothetical right now, so you asking a hypothetical question, I feel like I’ve been trying to answer hypothetical questions,” Yurachek said. “And I don’t have a great answer for that. Obviously , we have some states within our conference that are struggling, Texas and Florida. We need some things to get better, in those states in particular, to help with that.
“We need everybody to do their part and we need this to start trending in the other direction. I think if we see this does not trend in the other direction and we see a continued increase in cases across our country and across this region and the death rate increase, I think that will give us a pretty good indication we’re going to have to put a stop to this.”
The SEC has stated they will show patience with this decision and have done that with a late July decision in mind. Obviously meetings will take place during that time.
“We meet by way of Zoom two or three times a week as Southeastern Conference athletics directors,” Yurachek said. “We probably read information on a daily basis from medical professionals that are sent to us as we’re tracking this virus. I like to tell people I’m an AD, not an MD, but I’ve learned a great deal more about medicine than I ever hope to learn. I think it’s just for us to follow the data. There may be a cinderblock that slaps us in the face that makes this decision really, really easy for us one way or the other, but if this just kind of trends toward the middle, it really makes the decision that much harder about which way to go.
“One of the things that goes unnoticed and unmentioned that I think is unique when I talked to my colleagues in our department that have kids that play youth sports is there are youth sports happening all over our community. There are youth baseball games, and youth softball games and travel basketball games. Our coaches sit in their offices on weekends and watch basketball games from across the country that have 10, 12, 15 courts going at one time. There hasn’t been a word said about the success of any of those things. I understand the ages of most of those boys and girls playing those sports, but there are sports happening all over the country right now.”