UA coaches now play waiting game

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, March 19, 2020
Arkansas coach Lance Harter is shown during the NCAA South Regional cross country meet on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Lance Harter is shown during the NCAA South Regional cross country meet on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Lance Harter, coach of the University of Arkansas women's 2019 national championship teams in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field, said he wonders how NCAA member schools as a whole will react to the cost of adding athletic scholarships after this year.

The NCAA announced it will grant an extra year of eligibility to student-athletes in spring sports whose seasons were canceled because of health concerns related to the coronavirus.

Spring sports include baseball, golf, outdoor track and field, softball, tennis and lacrosse.

"That will be an interesting conversation at the NCAA level," Harter said of the financial ramifications of additional scholarships. "I'm curious if there will be a vote, because the Power 5 type conference schools, they probably can afford a one-year adjustment.

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"But a school that doesn't have those types of resources, if it comes to a vote traditionally there are the haves and the have-nots.

"I would see the have-nots going, 'Hey, we're already kind of at a disadvantage because we can't give a full allotment of scholarships in particular sports. And then of all of a sudden you're allowing the haves to have even a few more?'

"I could see reality hitting real quick that they wouldn't want to put themselves at even more of a distinct disadvantage."

Dave Van Horn, the Razorbacks' baseball coach whose eight College World Series appearances lead active coaches, said he knows some conferences would vote against adding scholarships in opposition to conferences such as the SEC.

"Hopefully, the Power 5 will say, 'You do what you want to do and we're going to do what we want to do,' " Van Horn said. "I think it's coming to that one day. That's my opinion.

"I think the NCAA should give us what we need to do to take care of the kids. This has been such a point of emphasis over the last three or four years. Taking care of the student-athlete and doing everything for them.

"If those other schools don't want to give more scholarships, they don't have to. They can make their own choice there."

Razorbacks Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said he's confident Arkansas has the resources to pay for additional scholarships the NCAA will allow.

"I do believe we can financially handle that, and we understand that those implications could be there," Yurachek said. "Because if you increase your roster size and scholarship size, obviously there's a budget implication for that."

Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel's softball team, which ended the season ranked No. 20 nationally, has six seniors, including pitcher Autumn Storms and outfielder Ryan Jackson.

"Hopefully, we haven't seen Stormy pitch in Bogle [Park] for the last time or Ryan Jackson hit with the game on the line," Deifel said. "I'm really hopeful the NCAA finds a thoughtful way that's going to work for everybody for them to come back.

"I definitely am hopeful we get to keep all six seniors. You know we're going to have a bigger roster size and there's a lot of things that come with that and still a lot of decisions that need to be made. As far as I'm concerned, that's a problem I will gladly tackle."

Van Horn said he hopes the NCAA will add a year of eligibility not only for seniors, but all players.

"I mean, how unfair would it be if you were a freshman and you had seven at-bats or two at-bats and you're starting to get to play now," Van Horn said. "That's what is going on.

"If you don't get this year back it doesn't make any sense. It shouldn't be just for seniors. It should be for everybody that's on the team."

Deifel agreed.

"I think it's important that we look at every year," Deifel said. "Seniors, they shouldn't end their career that way. But I also look at our freshman class, and they still had 40 games left ahead of them.

"So I hope that it's given back to everyone. I think there are a lot of questions to be answered on the 'how to' to do that. But I'm really optimistic and hopeful that they find a way that works for everyone."

The NCAA said it will discuss the possibility of adding eligibility for student-athletes who weren't able to complete their seasons in winters sports, including basketball, gymnastics, indoor track and field, swimming and diving, ice hockey and wrestling.

Arkansas' men's and women's track and field teams --which both won SEC titles -- were in Albuquerque, N.M., ready to compete in the NCAA Indoor Championships before the meet was canceled last week.

"I think you go through the grind of the season, everything is tilted towards getting to the NCAA Championships," said Chris Bucknam, Arkansas' men's cross country and track and field coach. "That's what we're about. That's in our DNA.

"That's how we do it in all of our sports. And then you take that away. You do the grind and you battle and fight and then you can't compete at the highest level. That's why I don't think it should be just spring sports talk, I think it should be winter sports as well.

"I think all the classes need to get [an extra season], not just the seniors."

Bucknam, who led Arkansas to the 2013 NCAA Indoor title, said it's encouraging Yurachek and Arkansas' other administrators agree with the scholarship additions.

"They have our back and we're just going to have to figure it out," Bucknam said. "It's kind of hard to predict what's going to happen.

"I think it's definitely workable, and I think it's not going to be just a one year thing. It's going to have to feather out three or four years, but I don't see it as a huge obstacle."

Van Horn said the scholarship additions need to cover more than one year.

"I just think it needs to be spread out over four years or a complete cycle where you could taper it down," Van Horn said. "For example, if we got a certain amount in 2021 maybe we get a little bit less the next year and the next year then we're back to wherever we need to be at [the NCAA limit of] 11.7.

"We need more than that anyway, but that's another story."

Sports on 03/19/2020

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