Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Masks, paperless tickets among possible changes at Razorback home games this fall
Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek is shown during a football game against Eastern Illinois on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Potentially requiring fans to wear masks and enter the stadium without paper tickets are among the University of Arkansas’ considerations in preparing for the upcoming football season, UA athletics director Hunter Yurachek told UA trustees Wednesday.
Yurachek said his department is working with Arkansas Department of Health, the university’s environmental health department and has received guidance from a group of UAMS professors in helping shape guidelines for attending sporting events. No formal decision has been announced regarding whether or how fans will attend games this year.
“We’re planning right now for full capacity,” Yurachek said of the Razorbacks’ home football games, “but also making plans for if that’s a half or a third (capacity), based on some guidance we receive as this continues to evolve.”
Arkansas is scheduled to open the season with a Sept. 5 game against Nevada at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It is the first of seven scheduled games in Fayetteville this year, including four games against teams from the SEC.
Yurachek said he thinks there will be a requirement for attendees to wear masks at the Razorbacks’ sporting events this fall. In addition to football, Arkansas is scheduled to begin hosting games in soccer and volleyball beginning in August.
In the most light-hearted moment of the discussion, Yurachek was asked by John Goodson, chairman of the trustees, if he has "tried calling the Hogs" wearing a mask. Yurachek replied, "I've just tried walking up the steps with a mask on, Chairman. I've struggled with that."
Speaking to the much more crowded football game days, Yurachek said his department is developing a plan of action that begins when fans arrive in parking lots around the stadium, and will address the use of shuttle buses from their cars to the stadium.
“We also have plans for how we sanitize and disinfect our venues prior to, during and after each event,” Yurachek said. “We’re just trying to create a level of confidence for our fans if there’s the ability to bring them back to our venues, that they’re confident we have and are mitigating their risk.”
Arkansas and other Southeastern Conference programs are preparing as if the football and other fall sports seasons will begin on time, but like with attendance policies, no formal decision has been made.
“What state or local issues are in play as we move into the summer are going to provide that determination rather than early-May predictions,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told CBSSports.com in an interview published this week.
The most pressing decision facing the SEC now is when will be appropriate to allow athletes back on campus for voluntary workouts. Yurachek said SEC athletics directors will vote Thursday to recommend a date to allow existing fall athletes to return.
Yurachek said the dates that have been discussed for return are June 1, June 15 and July 1. Whatever recommendation is made by athletics directors Thursday will be voted on by SEC chancellors and presidents Friday.
“We feel really good about where we’re at and we’ll be prepared…whatever that date ends up being,” Yurachek said.
Any June date approved this week would be only for existing athletes on the football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, soccer and men’s and women’s cross country teams, Yurachek said. He said incoming freshmen in those sports would not be brought onto campus until July 1.
“There’s not any residence halls open on our campus,” Yurachek said. “We don’t feel that is the right environment to bring incoming freshmen into.”
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