Another successful week in Arkansas Athletics has come and gone and that means it’s time for another “Ask Mike” where our veteran analyst Mike Irwin answers your questions. Make sure to go to Hogville.net or send us a message on Facebook to ask your question each week.
Q. Our first question this week is from George W Bushog who says:I worry that the trajectory of college sports is moving the wrong way and the result will be fan apathy, empty stadiums and, eventually, the complete disbanding of programs across the country. If so, what will happen to all those huge stadiums and arenas?
A. I think we’re going to see decreased attendance over the next several years because of the cost of going to games, the hassle of traffic and long lines at concession stands. Plus more and more fans are getting used to watching on TV. 4-K games are just around the corner. That’s going to be a big development.
But stadiums are not going to be empty. I think what we’ll see is places like, Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa and Texas A&M, that are overbuilt with these 100,000 seat stadiums, are not going to be full. Ten years from now 80,000 will be a large crowd. 50,000 will be more typical. In response schools will probably eliminate some bleacher seats and add more luxury chairbacks which will reduce capacity from what it is today. A 75 thousand seat stadium like here at Arkansas might end up more like 55-60 thousand. That’s a guess but I think a lot of fans, who went to games their whole adult lives and had to adjust to watching on TV this past season because of COVID attendance restrictions, are not going to come back.
Q. Razorback RedNeck says: The baseball team is about to give me a heart attack. I keep thinking that each weekend they’re finally going to lose a series and drop out of first place in the SEC. The pressure of staying number one is getting to me. How is it affecting the players?
A. So far they seem to be handling it better than the fans. You’re right. This staying number one in the polls every week is a new thing. Hog fans aren’t used to it. It’s fun but it also drives you crazy. Especially when almost every series is a nail biter.
Yesterday they weren’t hitting Georgia’s best pitcher through five innings. Arkansas was going with its Sunday pitching which usually isn’t good. But thanks to Caleb Bolden, Caden Monke and Kevin Kopps, Georgia only scored three runs and Arkansas finally got to their starter in the 6th and 7th innings for the 5-3 win.
Also South Carolina beat Mississippi State with a walkoff home run in extra innings which kept Arkansas in first place in the West. But they are now tied with Tennessee for the overall lead after the Vols swept over the weekend. And guess what? It’s time to go to Tennessee this weekend.
The pressure never stops.
Q. Eddy Lynn on Facebook wants to know: What did you think of Ryan Mallett’s return to football over the weekend?
A. Considering that he had not played football in two and a half years and suddenly had to deal with a pass rush in his face, I thought he played well.
His timing and accuracy was off some but he also had some impressive throws. Like the 60 yard bomb he hit in the 3rd quarter. He also lead his team on a scoring drive with just over two minutes to go to win the game. I’m looking forward to the next few games to see if he continues to improve. I have no idea if this will get him another NFL shot but at least he’s trying.
Q. Hoggle says in reference to a question you answered last week: I think you are being very naive if you don’t think allowing players to be paid for “image and likeness” will not open the door to players being semi-openly bid on in recruiting. Some sort of organizations (booster clubs, “image and likeness funds”… whatever) will form to formally offer players some sort of payment agreement to attend XYZ college. This cracks the door to legitimately do what has been happening for decades – pay players.
A. As I explained last week you seem to be suggesting that boosters or groups of boosters will do this out the open during the recruiting process. That’s not going to happen. These image and likeness deals cannot be offered during recruiting. It’s only after the athlete has arrived on campus and there will be an athletic department employee to guide them through the process. I’m not saying that some boosters won’t try to do it during recruiting but something as obvious as what you are suggesting would get that school on probation in a hurry. There were be no reason for it. Just wait until a kid gets on campus and you can offer him endorsement deals up front and out in the open. I think it will cut down on cheating.
Will there be a benefit in recruiting? Sure. Schools with a reputation for getting better endorsement deals for their players will recruit better. But again, it will be out in the open, not under the table.
Q. whipersnapper asks: I’d like your thoughts on the 2021 SEC softball champions and the turnaround job of Coach Deifel?
A. Very impressive. I’d be shocked if she’s not coach of the year in the SEC. I like the way she steadily improved the program over five years. Now that she’s got it going it will be interesting to see if she stays here. She certainly will get other offers. As I’ve said before coaches who come here from the outside and have success tend to stay here. She’s from California. Will she go back there if she gets a big time offer from a Pac 12 school? What about Alabama or Florida if one of those jobs open up? It will be interesting to see. Arkansas is on the map now but it’s important that these ladies make it to the Woman’s College World Series. The season is not over. There’s more to accomplish.
Q. Light Hoss Harry recalls: I was at Joe Ferguson’s freshman Red-White game and I asked him for his chin strap. I was like 12 or 13 years old at the time and he gave it to me. I went to a Springdale 7-on-7 game a few years back and Joe was there and signed it for me. He was impressed that I still had it almost 50 years later.
A. I’m not surprised. He’s that kind of guy. He’s a lot like Frank Broyles was in that he understands that we don’t have college and NFL football without the fans. He likes to give back and he’ll always be a Razorback. The best pro quarterback ever from this school. It’s not even close really.
Q. Little Joe says: I’d like to hear your take on the recent development with regards to our defensive line, the expected impact of these transfers.
A. It shows Sam Pittman’s commitment to get that D-Line better. I don’t know of any of these guys will be starters but the idea all along was to have the depth to rotate more D-Lineman in and out of games to keep fresh legs on the field.
I think there’s going to be a real commitment to going after opposing quarterbacks next year. The fact that they used their final three 2021 scholarships to bring in three experienced D-linemen out of the transfer portal speaks to that.
Q. bloodredhog wants to know: Do you think Kevin Kelley will be successful as a head coach at the collegiate level? Is there any FBS or FCS football program that never punts and always onside kicks?
A. I don’t know. I’ve always wondered if that stuff would work at the 7-A level here in Arkansas. It seems to me that the better the quality of the opposition the more likely that doing those things would backfire on him. But so far it’s a strategy that’s working. I don’t know of any college program doing it. He may be the first.
Q.CowHog32 has a follow up question: Why in the world would Kelley take this job? Surly he has had better offers or offers to be an OC at a higher level school. I get he wants to move up to college but this seems like a step down from PA.
A. It could be something as simple as he doesn’t want to be an assistant coach at the college level and he’s willing to start low as a college head coach. Also I don’t think he’d get many offers at the college level doing what he does. This gives him a place to prove that it will work in college football. Then he can move up.
Q. Hobhog asks: Are the days of Razorback basketball players signing and playing a full 4 years gone? Between transfer portal and lure of greener pastures it seems it will be the exception rather than the norm of yesteryears.
A. The way Musselman recruits, getting a player to stay for his senior year is probably not going to happen. If he’s not pro ready after there seasons he’s probably not playing much anyway. In the future I think we’re going to see more freshmen one and done’s and more transfer one and done’s at Arkansas. Fans will have to get used to it. But If Musselman keeps putting top 10 teams on the floor, I doubt many Hogs fans will complain.
Q. Big Daddy asks: Why do TV viewers watching MLB get a straight away shot at home plate but college is always from left center? It’s very difficult to tell if pitches are inside or out.
A. Major league stadiums mostly have small robotic cameras installed high above the centerfield wall just off center from the mound while SEC stadiums have a camera platforms that are to the third base side of the batter’s eye which makes them more off centered.
The issue is making sure those cameras don’t cause a distraction for the batters. In 1967 at Fenway Park Tony Coniglario was beaned below is left eye in part because he lost the ball in the background of fans wearing white shirts beyond the center field fence. It ruined his career. Most stadiums have had a type of batter’s eye going back a hundred years or more. Now all of them do.
College stadiums usually have removable cameras that are set up before games and are on a platform usually 10 of 15 feet above the ground. Major league stadium have permanently installed cameras that can blend in with the batter’s eye area.
At Baum-Walker that platform is several feet to the third base side of the batter’s eye which makes it really off center. It’s also just a few feet above the outfield wall. Years ago I tried to get the athletic department to construct a new platform higher up and right at the edge of the batter’s eye. But apparently Jeff Long was not interested in doing that. I will pass along your complaint and see if Hunter Yurachek will do something.
Q. HogFoo says: I saw something indicating that Yuracheck is planning a 75 million renovation scheduled for Bud Walton 5 years or so. Can you elaborate on what that might entail?
A. He mentioned this last week at a Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce function on the state of the Razorbacks. He said because of COVID related revenue issues future building projects will be delayed. The next project is set to be a renovation of Bud Walton. It sounds like he wants to add more luxury seating or have maybe have the upper deck turned into a club seating area like you have on the east side of the football stadium on the level below the skyboxes. He said it would cost around 75 million and the money will probably have to be donated otherwise it might take longer than five years.
Q. Lanny says: I had somebody try to tell me that Ken Hatfield was unpopular with the fans and the media? Sounds crazy. Not true, right?
A. Actually Hatfield had an image problem early on at Arkansas. A lot of fans didn’t like this Wishbone offense which he called the Flexbone. They thought it was boring with not enough passing. Also coaches shows were big in those days because only a few games were on TV. For some fans it was the only way for them to see the big plays from the previous game. Lou Holtz, who was actually very unfriendly in person, came across as a smiling, whitty guy on his show. Hatfield was viewed by some as a kind of a country bumpkin on his show which was not true.
Frank Broyles believed that Hatfield was extremely smart and was an outstanding head coach. He just needed better coordinators on his staff. Both coordinators had been replaced by the late 80’s and Arkansas went to back-to-back Cotton Bowls. The day before the 89 Cotton Bowl there was a rumor that Hatfield was going to Georgia. About 10,000 Hog fans stood up at a pep rally in Dallas where he was speaking and chanted, Please don’t go. Please don’t go. So his image problem had totally reversed itself by then.
As far as the media, it wasn’t that he was disliked. Some of us felt like he was distrustful of the Razorback media. He would almost never talk off the record to any of us. I think he was just being overly cautious. But it’s interesting that since he retired and and returned to NW Arkansas I’ve interviewed him several times and he’s completely different. To me it was just a coaching thing with him. Don’t ever let your guard down around reporters.