The Southeastern Conference announced it will honor the scholarships of all SEC scholarship athletes unwilling because of concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus to participate in intercollegiate athletics for the fall semester starting in August.
According to a news release from the SEC Office in Birmingham, Alabama, it was “a unanimous vote of the SEC’s Presidents and Chancellors following a recommendation of the Conference’s Athletics Directors” that any scholarship athletes choosing not to play this fall because of COVID-19 concerns “will remain in good standing with their team.”
COVID-19 is attributed to surpassing 140,000 deaths in the U.S.
In the release, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey is quoted:
“SEC universities are committed to full support of its student-athletes, whether or not a student-athlete decides to participate in sports during these uncertain times. SEC student-athletes have frequently expressed their desire to compete, but it is important for student-athletes and their families to know the financial support committed to them by their institutions will not be at risk because of health concerns presented by the current pandemic.”
According to the SEC press release, “The SEC will continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19 to determine at a later date if the policy should be extended to the Spring semester of 2021 or beyond.”
Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek issued a statement noting the Razorbacks support of honoring all scholarships through the pandemic.
“The announcement today by the Southeastern Conference that scholarships will be honored for student-athletes, regardless of whether they compete in the fall semester, aligns with the University of Arkansas’ commitment to the 465+ student-athletes within our program,” Yurachek said. “I anticipate that a majority of our student-athletes will choose to compete this year, if given the opportunity to do so. However, it is important for our student-athletes to know if they choose not to participate due to personal concerns related to the pandemic, they will continue to be supported.”
Spring semester collegiate sports were cancelled from mid-March on when COVID-19 first was reported significantly hitting the U.S.
All the SEC schools have phased in voluntary training and conditioning starting June 8 with football but and have plans to begin fall sports (football, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball) preseason full bore training in August for competition starting in September while knowing in advance fall sports schedules could be changed radically or cancelled as COVID-19 rages throughout the U.S.
During his Thursday Zoom press conference with Arkansas media, Yurachek said Razorbacks regardless of sport “want to play.”
“They’re here working hard,” Yurachek said. “We have 300-plus student-athletes (currently on campus). These men and women, they want to play their sport. They miss it desperately. They’re making a great deal of sacrifices right now in their own personal social lives they normally have in the summers so they can be here and train and get better.”
Because of their size, football players tend to pay the biggest price in the intense preseason practices in intense heat. It’s a price they willingly pay but won’t be so willing if the August practices lead to no games in September.
“I’ll tell you that the football players want to play football,” Yurachek said. “Here’s the thing that they have told me, unequivocally, ‘‘Fall camp is the worst three or four weeks of football season. Don’t put us through fall camp and then pull the plug on us. Make a decision before fall camp.”
Yurachek said Sankey and commissioners of the ACC and Big 12 among the Power Five conferences have resolved to stay “patient” waiting until late July before formally announcing the fall sports plans. Options are being considered including a conference only scheduled and delayed starts of the fall seasons if the late July COVID-19 numbers remain high but for now plans are to conduct the full September through November schedules as set originally.
Two Power Five members, the Big Ten and the Pac 12, announced their football programs will play only within their respective leagues and have cancelled their non-conference games.
For now, the Razorbacks open with non-conference games hosting the University of Nevada, Sept. 5 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville and visiting Notre Dame, Sept. 12 at South Bend, Ind. and also in Fayetteville hosting Charleston Southern, Oct. 3 and the University of Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 21.
Yurachek after noting “it makes sense” for instate non-conference rivalries like South Carolina vs. Clemson; Georgia vs. Georgia Tech and Florida vs. Florida State to continue if football is played rather than be scrapped like the Big Ten and Pac-12 plans would do, was asked if COVID-19 travel considerations could figure in Arkansas State replacing either Nevada or Charleston Southern on the Razorbacks’ 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 non-conference standpoint that we would compete against.”