Our first question is from Lanny who asks: Can you give us a Coronavirus update on the situation with college football?
A: Let’s start with some good news. After all those reports a few weeks ago about teams having a lot of players testing positive when strength and conditioning workouts started, the situation is much better as we move toward August. A little over a week ago Notre Dame tested around 150 players coaches and staffers. Not one test was positive. Over the weekend Oklahoma reported over a hundred players and coaches tested with just one positive and Hunter Yurachek said a little over week ago that Arkansas had just one active case of COVID-19. Again, there’s not been one report across the country of a player being hospitalized. If they test positive they sit out for two weeks and they’re back. That’s because even with the general public, young people, people 25 and under without underlying conditions, are not getting sick.
The bad news is that the people running the various conferences continue to tie playing college football with greatly reducing the number of positive cases among the general public. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has said this. Logic dictates that people in the 30 to 50 age group getting sick has nothing to do with athletes. However I’ve had people say to me, Yeah but those athletes can infect the rest of us. Especially their grandparents and other older Americans who can get really sick and even die. Okay but does not having college football mean they can’t infect others? I mean these football players are not going to hide in their rooms if there’s no football. They are actually less likely to spread the virus if they are playing because they will spend a lot less time among the public. But it looks like we’re going to continue to play a waiting game. The Big 10 and the Big 12 have committed to playing conference games only starting in October, There’s talk that The SEC is moving toward a 10 game season with 8 conference games and two non conference games starting in mid September. The hope is that the daily number of positive cases will be down by then.
Q. DeltaBoy wants to know: How will small colleges survive this big 5 conference game only plan?
A. It’s going to be very difficult because those schools depend heavily on the revenue from playing power 5 conference teams. Cost cutting appears to be the only answer but how far does that go? Salary reductions is probably where they’ll start. That will likely include everybody from the ADs on down. Travel costs will be another target. Riding buses instead of flying. You might see schedule adjustments. Eliminating games that involve long distance travel.Then there’s scholarship reductions and the elimination of certain men’s sports that are non revenue producing. If they cut enough of those they can probably also cut a women’ sport or two which are protected legally by Title IX. Will these changes be permanent? Probably not unless the power five schools reorganize into their own division of the NCAA and decide not to play mid majors in the future. I don’t think that will happen but it’s possible and if that happens those mid majors are in real trouble. You might see their sports become non scholarship only.
Q. SidRock asks: Is our athletic dept in trouble if football season gets cancelled?
A. Power 5 schools and especially SEC schools won’t be affected as much as others but yes, there could be salary reductions, especially with head coaches and ADs. I don’t think non revenue programs will be eliminated but there will be big cost reductions. The problem Arkansas has is the debt associated with the North Endzone project and the operations centers for baseball and track which are under construction. Most SEC schools have similar debt obligations. That’s why I think there will be some type of a season. Not playing football at all would cause big time revenue issues around the conference.
Q.peakhog wants to know: If we end up with conference play only, no fans in the stands for games, do you see a possibility of SEC Schools going to Pay per View to try and offset lost ticket revenue?
A. No. All games are already committed to the ESPN and CBS college football package. The revenues from that far exceeds anything that could be done with pay for view. There’s just no way to make up for the lost ticket revenue and even in the SEC that’s more than half of the money made through football. So even if games are played but without fans there are still going to be revenue problems for SEC schools. If they allow 25 percent capacity at games, which seems possible, then the problem is lessened. Any extra revenue will help.
Q. Kdogstew2u says: I have been watching tape from 2019 games. I notice that last year’s team continued to run against 7 in the box and those attempts were repeatedly stuffed by line backers. Will the Briles offense allow the QB to change plays at the line or is the offense going to rely on sideline coaches for audibles?
A. I don’t think that Briles has addressed this but I can’t imagine a situation where Feleipe Franks doesn’t have the freedom to call audibles. But that wasn’t the big problem under Morris. Plays were changed by the seven quarterbacks who started during those two years. The problem was the decision making needed to process the various run pass options. Those quarterbacks almost never kept the ball to run. Opponents totally ignored that option and it severely restricted the running game. Late in the year when John Steven Jones and Jack Lindsey started to play we saw some success with the quarterback run option. Also way too often the quarterbacks had trouble reading the receivers and how they were being played by the defense which caused passing game problems, like interceptions. Most fans blamed all of this on the O-line. Actually it was, to a large degree, a quarterback problem. Bad practice strategy, which I have previously addressed, was also an issue.
Q. OneTuskOverTheLine asks: If multiple conferences adopt a “conference only” schedule, is there still room for a playoff at the end of the season; and, if so, do you have any idea what it may look like?
A. Yes and it should happen under same basic format. The playoff selection committee picks four teams. Those four teams play in round one. A national championship game follows. Those three games would be big revenue producers. ESPN would need it. College football teams would need it. Frankly they would be stupid not to do it if the season is played.
Q. jbcarol says: A&M’s AD wants to play this year’s game with Arkansas in College Station. Do you think that will happen?
A. It’s possible but I’d still say no. Hunter Yuracheck has said he wouldn’t agree to move the game unless the Aggies come to Fayetteville in 2021. This could mean an early end to the Jerryworld contract. I don’t think either school wants to continue the series in Arlington. They can make more money home and home. Arkansas would like to replace it with a non conference game in Jerryworld each season but a game like that could not be done overnight which is why I think the two schools will continue with the current contract until it runs out.
Q. edemire points out: Peyton Hillis apologized to fans in a new interview. He cleared the air on previous statements critical of Chad Morris and Sam Pittman. Is everything okay now?
A. Let’s do some background on that. Several days ago Hills did an interview where he said he’d watched Arkansas’ football program go downhill and he wanted to help in some capacity with the team so, through a third party, he reached out to Morris and then Pittman and said he never heard a word from either coach. He said coaches talk a good game about involving former players to bridge the success of the past to the current team but that’s all talk. He came back later an apologized. Clearly Hillis wants some kind of a job with Arkansas. The problem is those jobs are hard to come by no matter who you are. Ryan Mallet and Drew Morgan are two ex Razorbacks who have started their coaching careers at the high school level. If Hillis want to coach that’s where he should start. My guess is with the apology this will blow over but he did make a lot of fans mad not with what he said about Morris but when he included Pittman in his complaints that was a different matter.
Q. Razorback Redneck wants to know: What do you remember about Lenzie Howell who passed away Saturday at the age of 53?
A. Well Nolan loved him which is really all you need to know. Nolan loved players who worked and Howell worked his tail off. He was an underrated member of Arkansas’ 1990 Final Four team. He cleaned up a lot of problems. He rebounded and scored off of missed shots but he also rebounded and dished the ball off if the shot wasn’t there. Every good team needs a Lenzie Howell. An unselfish guy who does’t care who gets the credit. He just wants to help his team win. Seems like we’re losing too many of these ex Razorbacks at an early age lately. I hate that.
Q. Lanny is back and wanting to know: What’s up with Isaiah Joe missing the first team workout with the Razorbacks yesterday?
A. Musselman hasn’t addressed this since it just happened and I’m not sure what it means. It does appear that Joe’s draft stock has gone up a bit in the last few weeks. It could mean he’s leaning toward coming out or maybe he just decided not to work out with the team until he makes a decision. How will it affect the team if he doesn’t come back? Musselman has so many new guys that he needs some older leadership. Joe could provide that. Reading some of the comments from fans on social media most are convinced that there is so much talent on this roster that the team would not be hurt by Joe’s departure. I don’t know that that’s true but with Mussellman ability to coach I sure don’t think it would be reason to panic. Because of the COVID situation this thing has dragged out way too long. But we’re only a few weeks away from decision time. By August 3rd we’ll know. Maybe sooner.