Kirk’s Korner: Sports in Remainder of 2020 Will be Anything Except Normal

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FAYETTEVILLE — One person after another on social media wants everything to just return to normal.

That would be outstanding if it happened, but the rule concerning sports going forward is expect everything but normalcy. This isn’t to rain on anyone’s dreams and predict there’s no sports. As I have noted before, I believe there will be football. For one reason, the money it brings in makes it a must to have if there’s anyway possible.

But wanting everything to just go back like it was before the COVID-19 outbreak simply isn’t happening barring basically a miracle. On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee once again extended the recruiting dead period in all sports through July 31.

ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren explains for football programs, this decision means there will be no official visits this spring and voids the quiet period at the end of July. The sport already had a dead period on its regular calendar from June 22 to July 24, but would have been allowed to have prospects on campus from June 1 to June 21 as well as July 25 to July 31.

But as far as the football season, there’s a chance this could be the most unpredictable season in recent memory. Why? Because luck may play a huge role in who wins the most game.

Saying luck may play a huge role doesn’t necessarily bode well for the University of Arkansas. Think back to the end of 2019 when Arkansas was 2-8 and made a coaching change. Hunter Yurachek promoted Barry Lunney Jr. to interim head coach. The team still had a trip to LSU, the eventual national champion, and then host Missouri in Little Rock remaining.

Going back to the luck, if facing LSU and Missouri plus a coaching change wasn’t enough just remember the UA had an outbreak of mumps on the campus. Yes, mumps. Several players were missing in the Missouri game with many of them related to mumps.

But moving forward to the fall of 2020. Could it be the team that wins the most games in the SEC will be the one who avoids having key student-athletes quarantined for 14 days? Think about it what if say a team loses 5-10 of its top players for 14 days can it survive that and win? Don’t think that couldn’t happen with Arkansas missing around 15 players, not all, but many, with mumps against Missouri.

The quarantines due to COVID-19 could prove to be the big equalizer in college and professional sports this fall and winter. Think of the NBA returning for the playoffs to finish the 2019-20 season. What if the Los Angeles Lakers lost LeBron James and Anthony Davis for 14 days, same with Los Angeles Clippers with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton and on and on with the other teams?

Yurachek was asked what will happen if there is a big outbreak once players return to Arkansas?

“Yeah I mean, we’re prepared to deal with individuals,” Yurachek said. “If we have a mass outbreak then that will definitely change our plan. That’s the one thing about this plan, and quite honestly we’ve been working on it for about four weeks, and it’s probably changed about every day during those four weeks and it will continue to evolve and change and be fluid as the environment in which we’re operating in evolves and changes. 

“So that’s what I told our performance team which is our athletic training staff, our strength and conditioning staff, our doctors that what we have to be over the next two or three months is we have to be very flexible, we have to be very nimble and we have to be able to adjust on the fly. And we’ve got to have a sense of humor because things change on a regular basis. We’re used to having things a certain way in college athletics and not having to or adjusting to change very well, but our environment is changing and it’s changing every day.”

As Yurachek noted schools are used to having things a certain way in college athletics and one can be guaranteed it will be anything but that this fall. Yurachek even made an outstanding point on how a coach may conduct meetings with players at his position. Yurachek used quarterback as an example.

“I could tell you some of the discussions we’re having on the football part of it, normally you meet with all of your quarterbacks in the same room,” Yurachek said. “Do you continue to meet like that? Do you go to Zoom call meetings where you have your first-string quarterback meet, then the second-string quarterback meets, then the third-string quarterback meets so they’re not in there together? Because, what you don’t want to have happen is the Friday before a game, your starting quarterback tests positive and because of his close contact with the second-string and the third-string and the fourth-string quarterback, you don’t have a quarterback to put out there. So, it’s changing the way our coaches in all of our sports think about how they meet and interact with student-athletes, even to a point where how they may practice moving forward.”

Looking ahead to this fall, hope for normalcy, but expect the unexpected.

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