Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE –  Just as they didn’t get to defend their 2019 NCAA  Women’s Indoor Track and Outdoor Championships last March and June because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Arkansas  Razorbacks women of Coach Lance Harter also won’t get to defend the NCAA Cross Country part of their 2019 NCAA Indoor-Outdoor-Cross Country triple crown.

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced Thursday  the cancellation of all NCAA controlled fall sports.

The NCAA controls  all college sports except the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision. Emmert announced the fall sports cancellations as more than  50 percent of conferences and independents have cancelled fall sports competition because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We cannot now, at this point, have fall NCAA championships, because there’s not enough schools participating,” Emmert said. “The Board of Governors also said, ‘Look, if you don’t have half of the schools playing a sport, you can’t have a legitimate championship.’ So we can’t in any Division I NCAA championship sport, which is everything other than FBS football, that goes on in the fall. Sadly, tragically, that’s going to be the case this fall, full-stop.”

At Arkansas, starting Monday its football practices since the  SEC which still strives to play 2020 football, the fall sports affected by the NCAA championship meet cancellations are men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek from the get-go has encouraged Harter, Men’s Cross Country Coach Chris Bucknam, Soccer Coach Colby Hale and Volleyball Coach Justin Watson to proceed with their  preparations.

On Friday afternoon Yurachek reiterated that support even with the NCAA Championships for those sports cancelled.

“Our student-athletes and staff are continuing to prepare for fall competition and a SEC Championship opportunity in each of these sports,” Yurachek said Friday. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey lent his support Thursday evening to the league’s fall sports affected.

“Our soccer, volleyball and cross-country student-athletes are working hard to prepare for their seasons and they have been diligent in taking personal health precautions and following protocols around COVID-19,” Sankey said via a Thursday evening SEC issued statement. “We will support them in every way possible as we evaluate the impact of these cancellations on their fall sports seasons.”

The Hale and Harter coached squads are defending SEC champions with  the Razorbacks 17-4-1  soccer team delving two rounds deep into the NCAA Tournament.  Bucknam’s cross country men ran 2019 SEC runner-up.

Contacted Thursday night, Harter and Bucknam both said with this season’s Nov. 21 NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Okla.  cancelled, they will shift focus preparing for the SEC Championships.Meets leading into the SEC meet could have limited competition. The Big 12 and the ACC are the only other Power Five conferences competing and the SEC has set stringent COVID-19 protocols that other schools might not have.

Traditionally cross country’s preseason meets include many schools from non Power Five and smaller college conferences.

“We now focus on the SEC meet as being our summit competition of the year,” Harter said. “The question now is we can only compete with the Big Three  (minus the Big Ten and Pac 12 cancelling all fall sports)  still sponsoring athletics? Right now we can only compete with them because they follow the same testing protocols. So we are kind of in this floating range of wait and see. We have a conference call Wednesday with all the track and cross country coaches in the SEC.”

Harter said his team “with all the new faces” needs the meets to establish itself graduating five of last season’s top seven though those five still have 2021 eligibility in either indoor track, outdoor track or both.

Recalling his Razorbacks men  practicing  last March on the NCAA Indoor Championship track in Albuquerque, N.N. when the NCAA pulled the plug on all spring semester competition, Bucknam said Thursday’s announcement “is like getting punched in the nose three times.” “I feel bad for our guys,” Bucknam said. “But we will take what we can get to put a semblance of a normal  season together. We’ve got a good team and we need to compete.” 

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