FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas vice-chancellor and director of athletics Hunter Yurachek preached patience determining how many football games, if any, the Razorbacks will play this fall.
He also stated all options are still on the table including a 12-game schedule though that option may be slipping away despite Yurachek’s optimism.
“What I can tell you and probably what you heard this week is that we’re going to continue to be patient as a conference before making decisions,” Yurachek said. “There are several options that are on the table right now. The first option still being a 12-game schedule that for us starts Sept. 5 vs. Nevada followed by a road game Sept. 12 at Notre Dame. We can’t move on to the second option until we eliminate the first option. That first option is still very much on the table as are other options.
“The impact of the Big Ten and the Pac 12 decisions have been minimal. Really only two games (involving SEC teams) Colorado at Texas A&M and Alabama against USC down in Dallas. Those decisions by the other Power Five conferences, those are the only two games we lost. As we stand here today what I believe with our conversations with Commissioner (Greg) Sankey, the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC are on the same page as far as our collective desire to be patient before making any decisions.
“You look at some of the instate rivalries that exist, especially between the SEC and the ACC, it makes sense that Clemson should play South Carolina, Georgia should play Georgia Tech and Florida should play Florida State. Just eliminating those games because you want to play a conference only schedule, at least at this point, does not make a great deal of sense.”
In addition to Nevada and Notre Dame, Arkansas has games scheduled against Charleston Southern and ULM. Yurachek was asked about hunting replacements for those schools if they fall off the schedule?
“If we lose those games, that’ll probably be the result of having a conference-only schedule,” Yurachek said. “I don’t see Arkansas State or anybody else outside of the teams that are currently on our schedule from a nonconference standpoint that we would compete against them. That’s as we sit here today. Everything changes, but I think if we lose any of those games you’ll see that it’ll be a result of a conference-only schedule.”
Yurachek did warn fans that if there’s a football season it won’t look like any in recent memory.
“We’re working toward a goal to be able to accommodate each of our close to 32,700 season ticket holders who make a choice to attend the games or continue with their season tickets along with our students and their families,” Yurachek said. “Attending games this fall is gonna involve several changes. First being mobile ticketing. There most likely will be some staggered entry times for fans assigned entry gates. I think you will see defined directional movement of patrons on concourses and aisles. Meaning when you go down the concourse you go down one way and come back the other. There will be very little overlapping of traffic. We’ll be working with Levy our concession partner to develop prepackaged concession items as well as potentially preordered and prepaid concession items.
“The field is gonna look different. The team box is now gonna go from the 15-yard line to the 15-yard line. There will be limited non-essential personnel on the sidelines. Limited members of the media on the sidelines. There will be no on-field presentations or recognitions. Still yet to be determined if we’ll have any performances by band or cheerleaders on the field. Some of the things that really make SEC Football games and college football special, the pageantry we’re all used to is probably not gonna exist in a college football venue this year.”
A football season is important to the University of Arkansas athletic budget, but that won’t be the deciding factor Yurachek said.
“Financially, football is incredibly important to us at the University of Arkansas and I think my fellow SEC members would say the same thing,” Yurachek said. “For us it generates about $70 million of our approximate $124 million budget. Not to mention the economic impact Razorback Football has across Northwest Arkansas and across our state.
“So obviously if we’re not able to play football there’s gonna be some very challenging financial decisions as a director of athletics I’m gonna have to make. What I will tell you the safety and well-being of our student-athletes will always be first and foremost and we will never compromise that. If we can find a way to safely play football, soccer, volleyball and cross country this fall that is our No. 1 goal.”
While some schools across the nation have cut the pay of its coaches, furloughed workers and even eliminated some sports. Yurachek and the UA have avoided that, but he admitted if there’s no football season that will likely have to change.
“We have certain fixed expenses,” Yurachek said. “One of those is the scholarships we provide for our student-athletes. That’s approximately 11 million dollars. We will continue to provide those. We have some debt service on the incredible facilities that we have built. That’s approximately 16 million dollars.
“We may be able to refinance some of that debt to lower those payments and make some interest only payments. The other expense we have is salaries. About 41 million dollars of our budget is made up of coaches, administrators and supports staff salaries. I think they’ll be a time, if we don’t have football, that we’ll have to start looking at cutting into that pie.”
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork has stated he wants to move this year’s game against the Razorbacks in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium to College Station. Yurachek offered up his thoughts on that.
“That’s their home game this year,” Yurachek said. “They’ve already lost a home game versus Colorado. So I think Ross has the desire to look at moving that game to College Station. So I listened.
“Obviously, we have a relationship with the Jones family here. They’re very supportive of that game. They own that venue. So his feelings on that may be slightly different than mine. But we’ll see how the schedule plays out. If that game is moved to College Station, I think it would be fair that we get that return game here in Fayetteville next year and then potentially resume in Dallas for the final two years of that contract. I wouldn’t want to see Texas A&M get a home game this year and for us not to get that return game next year.”
Yurachek did add that it appears the Missouri game will still be played in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. He also was asked if he and Bjork along with Jerry Jones can’t work out a solution to move the A&M game to College Station who would have the final say.
“I think very similar to the games in Little Rock, I think the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference is the final arbitrator on that,” Yurachek said.
Some sources have indicated the SEC could play a 10-game schedule with all conference games. Yurachek talked about the options and said moving the season to spring would be a last resort.
“I don’t know that Coach (Sam) Pittman relishes the idea of an SEC-only schedule, but it does provide you some more flexibility as far as scheduling games, if it’s an 8, 9 or 10-game SEC schedule, where you can change some games if you had some testing issues with one team or another,” Yurachek said. “All the options are on the table. I just want to play football this year. And I think (so do) our football team, our football staff. If that’s eight SEC games and one non-conference game or 10 SEC games, we’ll play whatever we’re able to play this year.”
Yurachek said among the discussions have included assuring a level playing field for teams.
“We have,” Yurachek said. “Obviously there’s gamesmanship that exists in college sports in general. That’s why, not that we want to follow what the Big Ten did, because our first option, as I said, is a 12-game schedule, but to have a conference-only schedule gives you some flexibility if you have a team that just can’t compete.
“Let’s say their first-string offense is all wiped out because of how they meet, you’d have the ability to reschedule that game later in the year if you have a conference-only schedule, or it makes it easier to do that. If it’s a non-conference game, it’s really probably just going to be a no contest and you’re not going to have the opportunity to play that game.”
Yurachek also praised the attitude of Pittman who waited a long time to get his chance at becoming a head coach in the SEC.
“Sam Pittman has been unbelievable,” Yurachek said. “For someone who’s never been a head coach other than at the junior college level early in his tenure, he has handled everything that has been thrown at him and his staff like he is a seasoned veteran head coach. I’ve been incredibly impressed.
“Walking out Tuesday when we had our first opportunity for our coaches to truly be involved with our players on the field for about an hour Tuesday afternoon and how that was organized and to see him walking around and the excitement that he was walking around, I hope we get to play football just for him because I know he’s been waiting a lot time for this opportunity and he’s handled it like a champ.”
Some have insisted there’s been an overreaction to COVID-19 as far as stopping sports. Yurachek was asked his opinion on that?
“Has there been an overreaction?” Yuracheck said. “I don’t know. I’m not a medical professional. I will listen to one far right news source and one far left news source, and I figure the truth is somewhere in the middle. That’s how I gather my information. What I know is that the majority, if not all, of the student athletes and staff that contracted the virus had very few, if any, symptoms that kept them down for no more than about 24 hours.
“I know in other parts of the country it has been the far opposite extreme. The death rate has been much higher. It has impacted people differently. But, at some point in time I feel like we have to move on with our new norm. That new norm is things that involve a great deal of testing, social distancing, wearing of the mask and the hand sanitization.
“We’re not going to get back to normal in the next year or two it doesn’t sound like, so we have to develop what that new normal looks like. We have to make some personal decisions, but when we make those decisions to leave our house and do things, there are some things that we should do that are in the best interest of everyone we come in contact with.”
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