FAYETTEVILLE — Opening noting “it has been an incredibly challenging 72 hours for all of us in college athletics and really throughout the country,” University of Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek, in a 20-minute press conference Friday, addressed the interruption in Razorbacks sports and all of college athletics trying nationwide to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The NCAA, on Thursday, announced all 2020 sports championships that would have been completed in March and April and spring sports championships that would have been completed in May and June are cancelled.
The SEC, of which the UA is a part, on Thursday before the NCAA edict, had dictated no athletic events be conducted until through March 30 and on Friday extended that to include all athletic activities through April 15.
“That means absolutely no competition,” Yurachek said. “No team practices. No team workouts. No individual workouts. Anything that has to do with being an athlete has been suspended within the Southeastern Conference. The services we will continue to provide to our student-athletes are academic services, any services they need for injuries, or any services they need for their mental health. Athletics is not important right now. What is important is a very serious public health issue and we need to do our part in college athletics to help our country make sure that this coronavirus does not spread.”
Yurachek offered repeated high praise for SEC commissioner Greg Sankey’s handling of the situation and his “collective” efforts both within the SEC and commissioners from other conferences but obviously was displeased that NCAA Mark Emmert banned all championship competition in May and June without warning to the conference commissioners and athletic directors.
“I was disappointed in how, not necessarily these were the incorrect decisions, but how those decisions were delivered,” Yurachek said. “I know we are working in a very imperfect environment right now. An unprecedented environment, but one of the things I would have liked to have the opportunity to discuss the decisions with our coaches and then with our student-athletes. And they find out from the right means and not social media. I don’t have a great solution for how that could have been delivered better, but I know there’s a better way to deliver that message than for me find out when I landed back from Nashville (upon cancellation of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament yesterday (Thursday) and for our coaches and student-athletes to find out.”
Although the NCAA has canceled late spring championships like the College World Series, NCAA Outdoor Track Championships, etc., technically the SEC and other leagues could still resume those sports if they chose.
Given the time frame of the SEC ban through April 15, Yurachek said the resumption for this spring seems difficult.
“I think it’s still very much up in the air on how to proceed,” Yurachek said. “I will tell you, I think it will be extremely challenging for our student-athletes and our coaches after taking a month off to quickly start a season back up again. If we are able to start practicing again some time after April 15, how many weeks of preparation do you need to get ready to start a season again? It’s gonna be a challenge.”
Because it would just be practice and not competition, Yurachek does have hope the Razorbacks could conduct spring football practice providing the NCAA grants a waiver beyond for practices to continue past April 25, the last practice date available on the spring semester schedule.
“Without some kind of waiver that’s not gonna happen,” Yurachek said. “That will be one of the things we ask the NCAA as a conference for some legislative relief. We’ll apply for some legislative relief to try to get our spring football practices in, whether it be in the month of May or June.”
Yurachek explained he expects that to be granted.
“I think you will find that the NCAA will provide some relief to most schools to make it equitable.” Yurachek said. “Some have had a week or two of spring practice, some have not, and some are completed with their spring practices. That obviously puts us behind, but that is not what is important right now.”
Yurachek was asked about the possibility of the NCAA restoring eligibility, particularly to seniors, in spring sports that just began and were interrupted or hadn’t started.
“I think it’s something that’s in discussion right now,” Yurachek said. “There’s a lot that goes into that. It’s not just about gaining another year of eligibility for your seniors. You’ve got juniors and sophomores and freshmen that have also lost potentially a season of eligibility. There are scholarship limit implications that go along with that. If you let your seniors come back and you’ve got incoming freshmen, you will obviously go over your roster and scholarship limits for many sports. So it’s just not as simple as saying everyone gets a year back. There’s a lot more discussion about the details, really, before you can say that’s going to happen.”
Yurachek also was asked about ticket refunds, particularly for baseball and softball.
“We have some information in place where we will provide refunds through everything scheduled through April 15,” Yurachek said. “And then we’ll address after April 15, and that can be in the way of a full refund or either credits to future ticket purchases.”