Optimism on Hill: Yurachek thinks football will start on time

Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek is shown during a football game between the Razorbacks and Colorado State on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek is more than just hopeful football will be played this fall. He thinks the country will need football and sports as part of a healing process to deal with the effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ll tell you what I think,” Yurachek said in a phone interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday. “I think that will happen. I think we will get a full football season in. I think that will start on time.

“I think it’s something that our community and our country desperately needs, for professional and college athletics to start back up again. I feel comfortable. That is how we’re planning here at the University of Arkansas right now.”

Yurachek’s enthusiasm for the return of sports — starting with the cash cow of football — rides on the forward momentum of a just-completed season-ticket renewal campaign by UA athletics and its fundraising arm the Razorback Foundation. The renewal effort, despite back-to-back 2-10 football seasons, was promising in Yurachek’s estimation.

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“We closed out our season-ticket renewal campaign on Monday evening with 91% of our season-ticket holders from last year renewing, 91% of our foundation members from last year renewing their memberships,” he said. “And in this economic climate that we’re all experiencing, I think that’s a ray of hope for us, that we get football started. So that’s how we’re planning right now, that we’re going to get our kids back on campus at some point in time during this summer and get them prepared to start a football season on Sept. 5 versus Nevada here at Razorback Stadium.”

The 91% on renewals for what was between 34,000 and 35,000 season tickets last year amounts to more than 30,000 season tickets sold heading into the 2020-21 fiscal year, Yurachek said.

“When you talk about we’re coming off the heels of the two most unsuccessful football seasons in Razorback football history … I think that shows the Sam Pittman effect in the energy and the excitement that people have for our program moving forward,” Yurachek said. “And what Sam has done in a very short amount of time, him and his staff, to build that excitement and create that energy for our football program.

“Now we have seven home football games here in Fayetteville for the first time ever. We have four really good SEC games, including LSU and Alabama. So there’s some excitement about our schedule like there’s never been before, and excitement about Sam Pittman and what our football program is going to begin to look like under his leadership.”

Yurachek was asked about comments from Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp on Thursday in which he said, “In some conversations with SEC officials and NCAA, I think they’ve come to the conclusion that you can probably start football as late as October and still have a 13-game schedule.”

Said Yurachek: “I don’t have any reaction to that. I will tell you a quote I read this morning that I think is really applicable to what we’re going through right now. It’s from Colin Powell. He said something to the effect of, ‘Tell me what you know, then tell me what you don’t know, and then finally tell me what you think.’

“And I think that’s what’s happening a great deal in our society, that last piece. I think you have a number of people that are talking to colleagues and media members across the country, and telling people what they think as opposed to what they know and what they don’t know.”

Conference calls are a necessary and daily part of Yurachek’s experience now, which he said he conducts from the wine cellar of his house. The SEC office maintained daily teleconferences with its athletic directors at 11 a.m. for a couple of weeks after the initial suspension of athletic activities was announced.

The Saturdays and Sundays were eliminated from that schedule a couple of weeks ago, Yurachek said, and now they’re maintaining a three-day-a-week routine to keep communication flowing.

Yurachek said the UA athletic department’s chief financial officer Clayton Hamilton is getting close to submitting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget is normally filed earlier in April, but the pandemic caused a delay and contingency calculations.

Last Friday on the Paul Finebaum Show, Yurachek said the UA would have to at least be prepared for budget reductions of anywhere between 5% to 15% due to lost revenue.

“That’s really what I don’t know,” Yurachek said. “We’re preparing for a balanced budget, and then we’re preparing for a budget where our revenues are reduced anywhere from 5 to 15%, because I think that’s prudent to at least have that plan in place.

“In a sense, we have the budgetary plan A, a budgetary plan B, and a budgetary plan C that we’re in the process of putting together. Before this all hit, we were on the verge of finalizing our budget for fiscal year ’21.

“Now we’ve had to go back and create a couple of different scenarios for that budget as we look at what could happen in the future. And it’s exactly that: What could happen. We still, as we sit here today on April 9, are not sure what the future holds financially for us.”

Yurachek said the NCAA voting to allow schools to give their seniors in spring sports an extra year of eligibility was the right thing to do. The Razorbacks had about 30 seniors in the spring sports of baseball, softball, outdoor track and field, golf and tennis. Yurachek said roughly 22 of them intend to return next season.

“The budgetary impact of that is about $500,000 in additional scholarship dollars that we normally wouldn’t have planned for,” he said. “While it was the right thing to do, it’s not done without budget implications. Because of what they allowed you to do, the NCAA with this ruling, was you could extend your scholarship budget for one year, you could extend your roster size in most sports for a year to allow those seniors to return back. Then as we head into the 21-22 athletic seasons, everything will reset to where they were this year.”