Arkansas Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek admitted in a Thursday Zoom meeting with the media that full scale, full speed preseason football workouts is the key phase in getting Arkansas and other SEC teams to opening weekend ready to play games. In June players returned to their college campuses to begin drills conducted by members of the various strength and conditioning staffs.
After a rough beginning in which some teams temporarily shut those workouts down, teams moved to phase two in early July with coaches conducting running and agility drills while wearing masks as their players remained socially distanced from each other.
In late July a football was added and players participated in walk through drills with coaches featuring various offensive and defensive plays and schemes.
The final step begins August 7 and it’s the biggie. How will players avoid a COVID spread when they are face-face, breathing heavily during two hours of full contact football drills?
“We’re getting ready to find that out,” Yurachek noted. “We don’t know because nobody (during the pandemic) has practiced football that way. Not in the NFL. Not college football. Not high school football.”
But Yurachek also suggested that just as coaches and players have adjusted during the previous start up phases, they will do so in this final phase, telling reporters, “I think the way we’re practicing and the way we meet and some of the things that we have changed within our football facility have worked very, very well. I think we’ll continue to do many of those same things as we get into practice really ramping up here in the next couple of weeks.”
Playing a 10-game conference only regular season of games will push the season opener for SEC teams back to the last week in September. But the start of August camp will remain unchanged which allows coaches approximately three extra weeks of preseason drills with an extra week of camp-type practices. However Yurachek revealed that the rules for 2020 August camp have been modified.
“Our coaches will not be forced to compress six weeks of instruction and practice into three weeks. But they 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,” Yuracheck explained. “It’ll be more like a regular week of practice for them.”
Yurachek also admitted that the season was moved back in the hopes that the COVID-19 spike that has been occurring throughout the southern states will begin dropping. That situation in late September will likely affect just how many (if any) fans will be allowed in SEC stadiums this season.
“We have had continuing conversations with the Arkansas Department of Health. 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,” Yurachek revealed. He also explained how much variation will be allowed stadium to stadium throughout the SEC.
“We’ll work together as Southeastern Conference institutions to have some commonalities,” Yurachek emphasized. “I think you’ll see a hybrid where there are some parameters that are put in place that we all collectively buy into as Southeastern Conference members and then there’ll be some that will vary from state to state.”
Gameday in the SEC isn’t just about what’s going on inside the stadiums. Tailgating is a big part of the pregame atmosphere. With many fans likely to be left on the outside some, no doubt, would still like to show up and tailgate if allowed. Yurachek said a decision on tailgating has not yet been made but he did remind fans that a lot about the 2020 college football season is not going to typical.
“If you’re going to come to a college football game this year, wherever you’re going, you’re just going to have to accept it’s not going to be the same college football atmosphere that we have all come to love,” Yurachek predicted.
Still for those who have been hoping that a college season will happen this fall, the news this week was the best they have had since the COVID-19 pandemic began.