If all goes well student athletes at the University of Arkansas could be arriving back on campus as early as June 1st with preseason practices in football, soccer and volleyball starting by mid July. Arkansas director of athletics Hunter Yurachek outlined details of the school’s plan, including an on-time start to the fall season, in a Zoom interview with the Pig Trail Nation Friday afternoon.
Yurachek said that weight rooms and training rooms will open first on a voluntary basis on June 1st which is in line with Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson’s decision to allow fitness facilities in the state to open last week.
“The key to that June 1st date is, all SEC activities are suspended through May 31st. So that’s the earliest that we could begin. That’s a plan,” Yurachek emphasized.
Yurachek envisions a multi week period of voluntary strength and conditioning drills to get student athletes ready for the next step in the plan, preseason practices, plus another six weeks to fully prepare for the season opener. “If you back up six weeks from September 5th, it would take you to mid July, he explained, “and we feel like from a coaching standpoint, our strength and conditioning coaches, our medical staff, that six week period is sort of the sweet spot to still be able to have your student athletes on campus for football but also women’s soccer and volleyball, and get them prepared. Have a reacclimation period for them and then to have an on-time start to fall practice and an on-time start to the season.”
Yuracheck also was quick to point out that the SEC member institutions are working “collectively” on the various plans and that all fourteen athletic directors have been meeting regularly since the SEC Basketball Tournament was cancelled in early March. “Commissioner (Greg) Sanke has done a great job of bringing the various AD’s together,” he stressed
“We met seven days a week for about three weeks,” Yurachek continued. “Then we backed off to five days a week and now it’s down to three days a week. All we have right now are plans. No decisions have been made. These plans are necessary whether we have an on-time start to the season or we’re behind three or four weeks. Those plans will adjust.”
If SEC member schools are working together collectively, it does not appear, at this time, that the various athletic conferences are doing the same. Yuracheck said he’s done a few Zoom meetings with AD’s outside the SEC but most of those type conversations are taking place between the conference commissioners. He said he has not talked to Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick about Arkansas’ September 12 road football game with the Irish.
Swarbrick has stated that the school will play no football games until students return to campus in South Bend and a decision on that has not been made. “We’re just trying to get to September and then we’ll worry about that next step,” Yurachek said of the uncertainty of that game.
Some schools have already announced temporary salary reductions for coaches, administrators and other staff members in light of the financial issues created by the spring semester shut down of college athletics. Yurachek said there are no plans to do that at Arkansas.
“We submitted our budget for the twenty-one fiscal year to the university roughly about two weeks ago,” Yurachek noted. “All of our coaches and administrators did a great job of sharpening their pencils and finding more areas where we could be more efficient as a department. Those efficiencies, to date, have not involved any salary cuts or reductions of positions.”
Making sure fans feel safe attending football and other athletic contests on campus is also a part of the ongoing planning process, according to Yurachek. One of the biggest issues is proper social distancing.
“When you arrive on campus we have almost 10,000 people who take a shuttle from outlying lots to the stadium,” Yurachek pointed out. “We’ve go to look at, do we put more shuttles into service to reduce the number of people on each shuttle? How do we sanitize each shuttle? How do we create fewer people in line at concessions by creating more points of service?”
What about the wearing of masks in the stands to minimize the chances of spreading the virus?
“I read a Sports Illustrated article earlier this week referencing the 1918 Spanish Flu and they had a picture from a Georgia Tech football game where the fans were all wearing masks,” Yurachek pointed out. “They had college football because Woodrow Wilson, the president at the time coming out of WWI, thought it was great for the spirit of America to have college football. We’re sitting here a hundred and two years later and having to make some of the same decisions.”
Yurachek said he’s charged his staff with creating a level of confidence among athletes, parents of athletes, coaches, staffers and fans that, “we’re doing everything we can to minimize the risk when they return to our athletic facilities. We don’t have a cure for COVID. We can’t eliminate it. But we can minimize the risk and create a level of confidence that they are as safe as they can be attending our events.”