FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek availed himself Thursday to questions from Arkansas media after first reading a letter to the editor he wrote last summer but withheld from revealing to newspapers, social media or Razorbacks boosters and fans.
Yurachek took umbrage that some criticized college sports as playing fall sports, especially football paying the other fall sports bills, strictly for the money during the coronavirus pandemic ongoing as men’s and women’s basketball, indoor track, and women’s gymnastics, etc. commanding the winter period sports stage.
Yurachek said from the get-go he pushed in his administration, within the SEC and nationally for college sports to pick up under strict medical supervision after cancelling spring sports when covid-19 first large scale manifested last March.
“ My why’ is our student-athletes,” Yurachek said. “Right now at the University of Arknsas we have 325 student-athletes on campus representing 19 different sports, returning voluntarily to work on their passion. They came back to do what they love. Student-athletes are making incredible sacrifices to provide themselves the best opportunity to have a season. As such, I will continue to work tirelessly to find a way that includes the safety, health and well-being of our student-athletes, staff and fans, to play college athletics this year at the University of Arkansas.”
Asked why he didn’t post or have the letter published last summer as decisions were being formulated, Yurachek replied, “I think I decided not to post it because ass some mentors have told me, when you write some things in haste, whether it’s an email, a text message or things, sit on it for 24 to 48 hours. I just decided that it had kind of served its purpose for me and had been very therapeutic for me to write that and read it multiple times.”
Yurachek said other than Arkansas’ Texas Bowl football participation cancelled because of opponent TCU’s covid-19 issues, all the sports have been able to play on adjusting with made up postponements or rescheduling another opponent.
Academically, athletes benefitted vastly, returning with their sport, Yurachek said.
“This fall semester, our student-athletes had a fall term GPA of 3.22 and we had 17 of our 19 sports programs that had an average GPA of 3.0 or better,”Yurachek said. “During 2020, we had 104 student-athletes that graduated or earn their degree from the University of Arkansas. We won three SEC championships (men’s and women’s cross country and women’s soccer during the fall). And we’ve been able to have fans at all of our events successfully except for indoor track and field events.”
Yurachek doesn’t deny with football and basketball attendance limited to a scant fraction of capacity at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and Walton Arena by covid concerns, that the UA and all Power Five and Group of Five schools absorb hard financial hits.
And that’s without mention of predecessor Athletic Director Jeff Long committing a $160 million project mainly to expand luxury seating for football.
However Yurachek said while there have been salary cuts, no athletic staffer has been laid off though 16 long time valued employees on support staffs from secretaries, trainers to the director of high school football and NFL relations, were persuaded to take early retirement.
“We’ve never going to be able to replace that institutional knowledge,” Yurachek said. “You’re referring to the 16 staff members that had close to 500 years of service to our department. You just can’t replace that. We miss those people dearly around our department, but we’ve been able to forge ahead. People have stepped up and covered those duties that were left behind.”
Yurachek was asked about the financial boost that Barry Odom, the defensive coordinator under Football Coach Sam Pittman, received
upon the Texas Longhorns seeking his services.
Yurachek said from the time pre-covid he fired Chad Morris, Pittman’s predecessor, he planned something extra for occasions like retaining valued staffers others seek.
“I went out and met with several of our donors and created through our Razorback Foundation what I call the ‘Football Enhancement Fund,” Yurachek said. “That would provide Coach Pittman the opportunity to spend those resources to hire and retain the best coaches, to buy the type of equipment he needed for the Smith (Football) Center, to recruit where that didn’t have to come from an operational budget.”
Despite foreseeing “in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 million dollars” financial hit, Yurachek said with reserves and planning “We feel like we’re in pretty good shape still.”