FAYETTEVILLE — There’s a lot of uncertainty in athletics right now because of the coronavirus and new Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman is having to deal with that.
Among one of the biggest uncertainties is what will happen if the team doesn’t get any of the 15 spring practices usually given to schools. Pittman obviously talked about that topic on Friday during his 50-minute teleconference. He talked about what his staff is doing since they didn’t get to begin spring drills as planned this week.
“Obviously, we were really excited to get out and see them perform and let them get to know the coaches better,” Pittman said. “I was getting to know them better. Put them in some stressful situations, get to know them better. But, we weren’t able to. My reaction was probably the same as everyone else out there. We are trying to figure out when we can work hard via school and things of that nature to visit with out kids. We are trying to put a stampede on recruiting. We are staying plenty busy it’s just not what we thought we would be doing at this point.”
Are all the players home or some still in Fayetteville?
“As of yesterday, we had 21 kids that were here,” Pittman said. “Nobody on campus. All our young kids that were living in the quads, the dorms, are not here. They are back home. But, we had those number kids. A lot of them were working with rehab. Not a lot of them, some of them were working with rehab. Every day we have a tracking through each one of our coaches of where our kids are. Most of them, I’d say 80 percent if not higher, are back home.”
Pittman said he’s not speculating on when the COVID-19 threat was gone and the team might return to Fayetteville.
“We haven’t really got into assumptions of when it’s starting,” Pittman said. “We have concentrated more on recruiting, including 2022 kids, and the well being of our players and their families. Just making sure we were communicating with them on a daily basis. You have fall camp that starts in August, you have July where they’ve been running, getting in shape.
“I’m sure there is going to be an acquisition period, we can’t just bring them back and immediately start football. So, you know, we’ve been talking with our strength staff about those things. As far as we know, they’re telling us that they are working out each day. So, we’re trying to keep them in shape and trying not to lose the gains that we’ve made.”
Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas’ vice-chancellor and director of athletics, and Pittman have talked about some possible relief from SEC and NCAA on practices when athletes are allowed to return.
“Yes I have talked to Hunter about alternatives,” Pittman said. “You’re almost … You’re not wasting time, because it’s so fluid, but you have to have several different dates in mind where you could maybe get … It went from, ‘When can we have our 15 practices?’ To now it’s, ‘Can we get 10 in? Can we get eight in? What about the teams that have had practices before us? How long of a period do we need in conditioning before we got out there to practice?’ All those things have been talked about. I don’t know about when August starts and we roll out the ball and get ready. I think part of, I was a head high school coach at three different schools and maybe you go back to something like that. I don’t know. I do know this. Everybody will be in the same boat.
“The different obviously is we’ll be getting to know our talent level where most other schools — not all of them, but most other schools — already know what they have. We’re going to look at it as a positive, and whatever it is, we’ll go out there and try to have the best practices of anybody in the country.”
Since Kendal Briles is installing a new offense and Barry Odom a defense do you feel it would be a big disadvantage for them if there’s no practices until preseason in August?
“No, I’m really not,” Pittman said about being worried in that regard. “You’re going to practice in the high 20s if they said you couldn’t have anything (more). But we have the regular time frame as we always do starting in August. If you just count Tuesday, Wednesday practices, you’re going to practice about half your season before the first game starts. Yeah, there’s some concern about all that stuff, but I you can’t do anything about it. We’re not going to harp on that.
“We might install a little bit slower. Some guys would say [do it] faster, but I just don’t think that you can install as fast as you possibly could in August without having spring ball. So we may slow down. We may not have the total amount of offense that we normally would going into the Nevada game, but certainly we’d have enough to have success.”
Pittman was also asked if he sees a scenario where preseason practices might start in July instead of August if nothing is available before then?
“I don’t really know,” Pittman said. “The season is long as it is. So I don’t know. I think the kids will still need a break before that first August 1 deal because now we’re at 12 games and some teams are at 14, some at 15. I think the NFL is a 16-game season and we have school involved with that, too. I just don’t know if we can start much faster than we do now. I’m talking about practice.
“Obviously you are doing a lot in the summer with the lifting and 7 on 7’s and those type of things. But you are not able to coach the 7’s on 7’s. They are basically captive practices at that point. I don’t know how we can …we’ll do whatever they tell us to. And we’ll do it and be happy about it. I don’t know how we can go longer than what we are now.”
Arkansas opens the 2020 season at home against Nevada in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.