It is time once again for our weekly “Ask Mike” segment where our veteran analyst Mike Irwin answers your questions about Arkansas Athletics.
Q: Let’s begin with our weekly COVID update.
A. More good and bad news. Let’s start with the bad. There have been some postponed games and Memphis halted its program temporarily after they ended up with several cases following their win over Arkansas State. The school said that several players went out and involved themselves in social activities not related to the team. At least one Memphis player publicly denied that claiming that the outbreak came from Arkansas State. Arkansas State did have nine starters quarantined for their game against Kansas State but won anyway.
So far what we’re looking at is games being postponed, not canceled. But the majority of games are being played three weeks now into the season.
There is word now that the Big 10 is about to announce plans to start its season in October. The vote maybe coming later this week. That would be huge.
Q. Our first question is from parallaxpig who asks: What is the stated SEC protocol for positive cases on a team concerning if you will play a game? I have noticed that in first two weeks several teams have postponed or canceled games because of positive tests.
A. Several conferences do have protocols and the ACC even has a protocol on how many teams have to be playing games to keep the season from being canceled. That number is eight. The SEC has no such protocols. The decision is up to the coach and the school of the team that has players quarantined. As I just mentioned Arkansas State had nine starters out. They had several non starters quarantined as well. Oklahoma was missing several players too but still managed to blow out Missouri State. In most cases the actual numbers are not being made public but it’s clear that coaches can and have played games with a number of players quarantined once again demonstrating a commitment to playing games if at all possible.
Q. Blood Red Hog says: The athletic department just asked for a $19m loan. Do you think U of A athletics can survive COVID? Will any sports have to be cut, if only temporarily?
A. Survive? As in COVID might might the end of college sports? Of course it will survive. The low interest loan seems like a good idea to me. It will allow the athletic department to get though the shortfall this season created by severe restrictions on football ticket sales. Keep in mind that nobody has been let go or furloughed. Some salary reductions have been put in place. There will be other cost saving measures but there’s a good chance that a COVID vaccine will be available by basketball season. If so revenue from basketball and baseball ticket sales will help next winter and spring.
The real issue is this: There are a lot of fans out there who claim they are done with pro sports because of the way various teams have reacted the social justice protests. TV ratings for pro football were down some in the first week. If college teams stay involved in this will there be a similar reaction by the fans and will it spill over into live gate attendance next season?
I don’t think COVID will impact college athletics beyond this football season but I’m not sure about the social justice protests. It could be a temporary reaction by some fans or it might end up being more serious. Some are saying that the days high dollar salaries for coaches and the construction of top notch facilities are over. It will be a while before we know if that’s accurate.
Q. RiverValleyHog55 asks: Any word on how Bumper Pool is doing? I have not seen him on any of the practice videos, and the coaches haven’t mentioned him in their recent interviews. I hope he is okay.
A. Sam Pittman mentioned several linebackers after last Thursday’s night time practice. He did not mention either Pool or Grant Morgan. He was asked specifically about them and he said, those fellas are doing fine. That’s all I know about that.
Q. I AMHOGHOLIO wants to know: How does a Pittman practice compare to a Petrino practice in regards to intensity and organization?
A. Pittman’s practices are more about his assistant coaches and less about him. Also the intensity you mentioned was mainly Petrino yelling and screaming at the players and his own coaches. Compared to Chad Morris both Petrino and Pittman have organized practices.
Q. parallaxpig asks: What is the stated SEC protocol for positive cases on a team concerning if you will play a game? I have noticed that in first two weeks several teams have postponed or canceled games because of positive tests.
A. I don’t know of an SEC protocol. It’s up to each coach. Basically if they don’t think they’ve got enough players available at certain positions they can cancel or postpone if there’s a way to do it. Again, Arkansas State played Kansas State minus 9 starters and still won. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Q. Razorboo wants to know: Do you believe that the Men’s Basketball team will play a full season, who will be the emotional leader of the team and which freshman will make the greatest impact?
A. I do think they will play a full season. The emotional leader will be Desi Sills. The biggest impact by by a freshman will come from Moses Moody.
Q. whitewater says: We understand the media has limited access to practice, having said that, I was curious of your opinion of team speed ? We always seem to be a step slow at linebacker and secondary.
A. It’s been a problem for a long time and until I see something different in a game I’m going to assume it’s still a problem. There are things that can be done from a fundamentals standpoint to help some but the real answer is recruiting.
Q. 10yrsofhell asks: What are your thoughts as to why some athletes can play right away after transferring and some have to sit out a year?
A. If we go back to the original transfer rule it was pretty simple. Anybody could transfer but in order to make sure there weren’t a wave of transfers every year from players who just wanted immediate playing time somewhere else the NCAA mandated that players who transferred had to sit out a year.
If the former head coach of the team objected because the player was transferring to a school on that team’s schedule the player had to sit out two years.
Those rules have been relaxed. If a player has a special need, especially with regard to a family situation, then sometimes immediate eligibility is granted. However If the former coach lodges an objection and the NCAA agrees with it the player still sits for a year. But I also think if the former coach tells the NCAA that he has no objection to the player having immediate eligibility then he’s more likely to get it.
Q. DeltaBoy wants to know: How about the Oline?
A. Based on the video we’ve seen and what coach Pittman has said, I think those guys are much improved as a group. They certainly are bigger. That’s the Pittman influence. It’s a more mature bunch. The pass blocking in particular has been impressive in some of the video I’ve see. We’ve seem Rakeem Boyd have a great preseason. Some of that is the run blocking he’s getting in practice. I also think these guys are mad. Some of them, like Dalton Wagner, have said so. They have something to prove. They’ve really got two O-line coaches. Brad Davis who was hand picked by Pittman, so you know the guy is really good. And Pittman himself who was one of the best O-line coaches in college football before he took over as head coach at Arkansas. By all accounts the O-linemen have been pushed relentlessly since workouts began. They say they don’t quit on plays anymore and we will all see that when the season opener is played.
Q. Jumpty asks: How did UTSA look this weekend? Specifically the offensive play calling and the style of offense. I will be following closely the coaching career of Barry Lunney Jr as he is an obvious head coaching candidate in the future for the Hogs. Preferably when Sam Pittman retires after a very successful career.
A. It looked great for about three quarters. They built up a big lead. But UTSA didn’t put Texas State away and they would have lost the game if not for a missed extra point. No question the play calling got conservative in the 4th quarter trying to hold on to the lead and run out the clock. I don’t know if that was Lunney or Jeff Traylor, the head coach. But a win is a win and the offense was creative and exciting to watch for the most part. I’m looking forward to seeing more of their games.
Q. Twinky275 wants to know: Any word on men’s or women’s basketball home or away, single tickets availability.
I live in Georgia, but willing to pay season prices just to get a single game.
A. Nothing yet. I think the crowd situation for basketball has a chance to be better than it is for football if a vaccine is available in November as we’ve heard. The chances of buying a single game ticket would be much better in late January or February once most fans who want to go to games have been vaccinated and the percent of capacity allowed goes up as COVID numbers drop.
As far a road games you need to keep an eye out for announcements from SEC teams in your area. Auburn would be a good bet for you. Maybe South Carolina. Arkansas played Georgia in Athens last season so if the ‘Dogs are on Arkansas schedule, which hasn’t been released yet, that game would be in Fayetteville. Same thing for Florida. Arkansas played the Gators in Gainesville last season.
Q. Pigsfeat says: A buddy and I try to go to high school basketball games involving Arkansas recruits and prospective recruits. Do you think the limited seating due to COVID will make it hard for us to find tickets/seating?
A. That’s gonna depend on local COVID numbers at the time and the seating capacity of the gym in question. Again, I’m hopeful that a vaccine will be available before the end of the year. So your chances of going to games would be better in January and February.
Q. The_Bionic_Pig says: The NFL just proved that crowd attendance isn’t a necessity and the game alone itself can be very, very entertaining. Do you believe the collegiate AD’s could adopt this as a last resort if need be?
A. Absolutely but I think the COVID situation is headed in the other direction. I look for more fans at games as the season progresses, not fewer or none. COVID numbers across the country have been slowly dropping for about a month.
Q. HotlantaHog wants to know: Any overall impressions of the start of college football with the ACC and Big 12 games over the weekend? What did you think?
A. Again Like he fact that OU and Arkansas State played in spite of having several players quarantined. That’s how you make this season work. The coaches involved have said none of those players are sick and they will be back after sitting out two weeks.
I like the upsets. I said last week that I think there will be more upsets this season because some teams are going to handle the whole COVID thing better than others. It was fun watching college football again.
Q. BloodRedHog is back with another question: Pittman isn’t focusing on Georgia until game week. This seems like a departure from past UA coaches. Didn’t most of them focus on their season opening opponent well before game week?
A. If it’s a non conference game against a mid major a week and a half is typical. A few years ago Arkansas opened against Auburn and Bielema spent a couple of weeks getting ready for that game. I would have expected Pittman to have already started work against Georgia and maybe he has and just doesn’t wan to say. Regardless, he said they will start on the Georgia prep this Friday and have six practices before the game.
Q. Our last question comes from prattville pig who asks: With the opener two weeks out, can you help the in state viewers with tips on where to find block chili for their Paul Eells cheese dip?
A. Most people I know call it brick chili. You can get it in just about any grocery store. No biggie. The real question is how do we get the Paul Eells cheese dip? If anybody knows, let me know.