Arkansas Dealing With COVID-19, but Sam Pittman Expecting Season to Begin Sept. 5

FAYETTEVILLE — While some schools have even shut the voluntary workouts down, the University of Arkansas has continued and seems on pace to be ready for the Sept. 5 season opener against Nevada in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

On Tuesday, Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman along with running back Rakeem Boyd and cornerback Montaric Brown participated in a Zoom call with beat reporters. Arkansas isn’t commenting on positive COVID-19 tests at this time, but a source has indicated to this reporter the Hogs have had five positives, but all have returned to action. That was before the new wave of freshmen reported so that number could have changed. Pittman was asked if he had any concerns about the season starting on time?

“No, not really,” Pittman said. “We can only control what we can control in here. In our SEC head coaches meetings, everything is going on as planned, scheduled for Sept. 5. That’s what we’re preparing for. Obviously there’s a lot of different scenarios and things of that nature, but as of today and in the near future, we’re looking forward to starting the season off Sept. 5.”

While Pittman wasn’t allowed to comment on the number of positive tests, he did address if it had hampered the workouts so far.

“No, not really,” Pittman said. “Obviously if you have a positive, then it’s going to take whoever’s with them or around them for a 10- to 14-day period. If you have a positive, then it certainly effects who’s able to work out and who’s not, but I can say we’ve been very good here. We’ve done a nice job with this COVID and I’m very proud of how our players have handled it.”

Pittman was asked if he has had an issue motivating the players considering some consider it an uncertainty if the season will be held?

“Well I think the media thinks we’re not going to have a season more than we do,” Pittman said. “There hadn’t been one ounce of conversation between myself and our team about not having a season. So it’s not hard to motivate them about not having a season because we all believe we’re going to. If it changes, we’ll adjust, but we’re preparing for Sept,. 5 and that’s what we believe is going to happen. If it doesn’t, we’ll just have to figure out what our next step is. But it hadn’t been hard because we don’t talk about it.”

A reporter even asked about a rumor apparently floating around Monday night that Arkansas had 24 positive tests and Pittman was prepared to send everyone home on Tueday.

“I learned a long time ago the media is very important,” Pittman said. “But it can also make your team or break your team if you pay a lot of attention to it. And so we’re going off of facts of what we know. I’m in a head coaches’ meeting every Thursday morning at 7:30. I’m going off of fact from the SEC commissioner, and so all speculation … I mean we could speculate for a month. Some of it would be right, some of it would be wrong. I’m just going off the facts of what the SEC commissioner is telling us and we’re going as planned to have a season for Sept. 5.

“Honestly, I don’t know how you could possibly prepare a team if you look at it any other way than that.”

Pittman did admit the Hogs have discussed plans that if all of a sudden they were told the season wouldn’t start on Sept. 5.

“I think the biggest concern is the what-ifs,” Pittman said. “What is that happens? What if you get pushed back two weeks? All those type things. And that’s always a constant communication between myself, Coach (Jamil) Walker and our three coordinators. We’re talking about that all the time. We just had a meeting yesterday about our plan. And then, ‘OK, let’s say that they give us another week. Are we comfortable with exactly what we’re doing now? Or do we need to change it up for the kids? 

We’re not in the time-consuming business. We’re in the winning business. So we’re not trying to have our kids here just because the NCAA says we can have them here. If we’re going to have them here and have them in meetings, we need to be diversified enough in our meetings that we’re keeping their attention that we can go win football games.”

Pittman was asked about other schools having issues with athletes in clubs and stuff and testing positive for COVID-19. What indication does he have the players at Arkansas are listening since it’s obviously hard to restrict young people?

“Well, if they want to have a football season, it’s realistic to ask them to stay away from people,” Pittman said. “But, I mean, they’re young. They like to, just like we do, we like to be around people and things of that nature. It’s not only going out, it’s in your dormitory when you’re around your roommates. It’s all those things about wearing a mask.

“I’ll tell you what’s happened. We have gotten better and better at social distancing as we continue to go through these weeks. We’ve gotten a lot better. You can see it outside the building, you can see it coming in the building. The education has worked, but to sit here and say Fourth of July, I mean come on. You’re either going to say we trust you as being as social distancing as you can, or you’re going to say, ‘You can’t go anywhere, including any place out of your apartment.’ I mean, you can’t do that, and so we choose to believe that… You know, what’s the difference in the Fourth and last weekend. I mean, the kids are off, and so we choose to trust and believe in our team and that they’re grown men because otherwise, A, I think that’s the way you should do, and B, it would wear you out. It would wear you totally out if you were worried if they had their mask on at a restaurant or not.”

Brown agreed with his coach in that regard.

“We’ve done it very well,” Brown said. “We listen to Coach Pittman and make sure we social distance every day, and making sure we have our masks on and staying away from large groups of people because it spreads quickly. We just listen to what Coach Pittman says.” 

Boyd also talked about what the players are doing during workouts and other times.

“Yeah, keeping your hands clean and your mask on and really staying clean,” Boyd said. “The workouts, we wear masks in there and six-feet apart. We get it in.”

Professional baseball and the NBA are set to resume action in July. Pittman said of course Arkansas and others will be monitoring how that goes.

“I’ll say this, any professional sport or even a college sport that would start up before us, whether it’s the NBA or Major League Baseball, we’re going to be able to get some information on what they did right and what they did wrong,” Pittman said. “The better that it goes, certainly, the better opportunity we’ll have to get out there on time. So, there will be information from Major League Baseball and NBA on how they’re doing things and how we can do it – if it’s good – just like them, and better if they’re having some problems.”

Some in the national media have speculated the college football season could be flipped to the spring after a vaccine might be available.

“Well, sure, I’ve heard it,” Pittman said. “I’ve heard a lot of stuff, you know? What do we say about the spring? I don’t know. I think before it gets to that point they’re going to cut the season down. I think they’d start the season later. There are so many scenarios right now, but so you’ll know, we’re planning on Sept. 5.”

Considering all the issues at other schools has that been a sobering thought for Boyd?

“Not really because I’ve talked to a couple of players like at Alabama because Wallace is from Houston,” Boyd said. “I’ve talked to players like that. They’re not at the school, but I mean I think it’s just crazy that that many people have the coronavirus. Something’s not right or we’re doing something right over here.”

Brown also answered that.

“It kinda surprised me,” Brown said. “We just follow what coach Pittman says. You really see it on social media so we kinda knew about it already. So we just adjusted to that and followed the rules making sure we do what we’re supposed to do.”

Being young how difficult is it to follow the guidelines that have been set in place?

“It’s not hard at all like coach Pittman said if you want a season you’re gonna abide by those rules and follow those rules,” Brown said. “I mean if you want to have a season we will follow the rules.”

Boyd took that even one step more.

“If you want to live for your own good that would help a lot just staying inside,” Boyd said. “I’ve done got into games now. I bought an xbox so it’s a lot different.”

As far as motivation to keep working during the pandemic, Boyd had a very direct answer.

“To get over on every other team, basically,” Boyd said. “You know what I mean? Obviously, those teams you see right now aren’t together. Arkansas, we are together. We basically have our whole team right now, and we are all training. That is motivating us to win. Obviously, we haven’t been winning. So, that is what we are trying to do. We’re going to need everybody.”

Brown also addressed that.

“Like Rakeem said, everybody is not working out,” Brown said. “We are just trying to be here every day. Workouts are voluntary, but we treat it like it is mandatory. So, we are here every day. We’re just trying to get the edge of everybody else.”

Click here for the Arkansas schedule.