Yurachek was sold on tennis team's marathon qualifier

By: Matt Jones
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Hunter Yurachek, athletics director at the University of Arkansas, speaks Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, during a press conference to introduce Chad Morris as the university's newly hired football coach at the Fowler Family Baseball and Track Indoor Training Center in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Hunter Yurachek, athletics director at the University of Arkansas, speaks Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, during a press conference to introduce Chad Morris as the university's newly hired football coach at the Fowler Family Baseball and Track Indoor Training Center in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek said Wednesday he supported a plan for the Razorbacks' women’s tennis team to play six rounds of matches in a single day to improve its chances for making the NCAA championship tournament. But he had to be convinced to do so by the players on the team.

By winning all six rounds against Tennessee State during a 14-hour window Sunday, Arkansas improved to 16-16, and by virtue of having a .500 record reached the minimum standard to be selected for an at-large berth to the NCAA postseason. Sunday was the final day for teams to play regular-season matches.

The Razorbacks' decision to play six matches against a lower-tier opponent was criticized by some earlier this week after the website Deadspin.com published an article Monday titled "Arkansas Women's Tennis Team Schedules Six Matches In One Day Against Cupcake Opponent To Earn Tournament Eligibility." The matches, which were played in Nashville, Tenn., were scheduled Saturday night after the Razorbacks were eliminated by Florida at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Knoxville, Tenn., earlier in the day.

In an interview with WholeHogSports on Wednesday, Yurachek said he didn't support the decision to play so many matches until after team members voted in favor of doing so following an unexpected run to the SEC Tournament semifinals. Arkansas entered the SEC Tournament as the No. 11 seed.

"Initially I did not support this, but what I do support are our student-athletes," Yurachek said. "It became apparent this was something that was important to them. They made a run, felt like they were playing well and felt like they were a legitimate NCAA Tournament team toward the end of the season.

"I have been very adamant throughout my career that I support student-athletes. If I had even gotten an inkling that this was something they didn't support, I would not have changed my mind."

NCAA/ITA rules state a tennis team can play on no more than 25 dates each spring, but does not cap the number of matches permitted in a day or in a season.

It is not uncommon for programs to play double- and triple-headers in one day. Yurachek called the Razorbacks' sextuple-header "odd" and "unusual," but it is not unprecedented. In one instance, Alabama's men's tennis team played six rounds of matches combined against Jackson State and Jacksonville State on March 1, 2015, according to a schedule posted on the Crimson Tide's website.

Arkansas and Tennessee State began playing at 8 a.m. Sunday and the final matches did not start until 7 p.m., according to a schedule posted to the Razorbacks' website. The teams took two-hour breaks after every two rounds and played by "clinch" rules, which suspended unfinished matches after one team won three singles and one doubles match each round.

The Razorbacks won 4-0 in the first five rounds and 4-3 in the sixth.

"We had nine members of our tennis team that traveled with us and three of them had not played any matches at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, so we rotated nine players among those six matches," Yurachek said. "We had a trainer there who was constantly evaluating our team and made sure they were able to continue throughout the course of the day."

Arkansas and Tennessee State did not give any public advance of the matches and no box scores - only final scores - appear on the Razorbacks' official website. Tennessee State posted match results and box scores for all six matches on its website.

Zekeya A. Harrison, director of athletic media relations at Tennessee State, directed WholeHogSports to Tennessee State coach Monroe Walker III's Monday interview with CollegeTennisToday.com in response to an interview request Tuesday.

Tennessee State athletics director Teresa Phillips told The Tennessean that Arkansas paid the school $15,000 to add the matches to the schedule. Tennessee State spent $27,652 last year on women's tennis, per data from the U.S. Department of Education.

"Not only were we compensated but 100 percent of the proceeds went back into the tennis program, so it was really a great benefit for the program," Walker told CollegeTennisToday. "And 'into the program' does not mean coaches' salaries. It will go to benefit the players."

The NCAA Tournament field of 64 will be announced Tuesday and first- and second-round matches will be played on campus sites May 12-13. Arkansas is ranked No. 29 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's latest national rankings after falling outside the top 50 the week before.

"At 10-16 we were not in the discussion," Yurachek said. "At 16-16 and ranked 29th, we're in the discussion."

When reached by phone Tuesday, Erica Perkins Jasper, chief operations officer of the ITA, told WholeHogSports the organization is unable to comment on the Arkansas situation. The ITA serves as the governing body for college tennis and its rankings help determine teams for the NCAA Tournament.

Information for this article was contributed by Scottie Bordelon

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