AAA Remains Optimistic On Fall Sports
For those involved in the sports world or those that are simply fans, the news seems to change daily as what to expect for upcoming seasons. High schools in the area are currently working on a limited contact practice schedule, balancing workout time across athletic disciplines, and administering strict social distancing and disinfection policies. Several local coaches have shared how they work through the current status, dividing athletes into smaller groups, players not sharing equipment, and disinfecting gear and areas in a rotation schedule. It is not ideal, nor is wearing a mask while coaching or working out, but these are necessary and required for participation during a pandemic.
More and more, the focus is on the fall sports and the return to campus. There are many unknowns. Daily the scenarios are changing. This week, the Arkansas Activities Association sent out a press release sharing their expectation to host fall sports, "The Arkansas Activities Association is preparing to resume activities and athletics this Fall in accordance with the regular AAA calendar. These preparations are contingent upon compliance with all directives as issued by the Governor's office and Department of Health," the statement opened. That is an optimistic approach that most want to hear. The news came as a school district and a university in neighboring counties shut down their offseason workouts because of virus concerns.
Expect schools and universities to learn a lot about their expectations in the coming days. Both the NBA and MLB will be starting up with variations of a "player bubble" to limit athlete exposure, and neither will have fans. The PGA and NASCAR have returned with success, though they have had players test positive. Neither has seen a significant spread of the virus in their sport, but they have significantly less contact than baseball and basketball.
College sports took a significant hit, as the Ivy League canceled all fall sports, and the Big 10 and the PAC12 both announced they would play a conference schedule only. In an interview last week, Greg Sankey said his concern is now "high to very high" and summed it up best by saying, "We are running out of time to correct and get things right."
The decision to host or cancel fall sports reaches much further than the field. Can scholarships still be funded if the revenue is not coming in from the games? While large power five schools should be reasonably secure financially, Stanford has already announced they are dissolving 13 athletic programs. While the sports eliminated were not generating revenue, they were likely the primary support for the students attending a costly college. The University of Arkansas also has started making changes, stating among their reasons, "the implementation of the system will enable Razorback Athletics to re-invest $180,000 in savings for the continued benefit of 465+ Razorback student-athletes competing in 19 sports."
Another issue that has come to light over the last few days is virus testing for coaches and athletes. Reports of testing centers already heavily taxed, especially in Northwest Arkansas, may mean more participants' adjustments. Colleges have already been testing athletes and implementing contact tracing, but there has not been much information about how that will play out through a season or beyond.
Locally, we do not know much beyond the current press release. Players and coaches will continue to work toward an optimistic fall schedule. The AAA website still shows football in pads on August 8 and starting dates for other fall sports. Until we learn more, communities must do all they can to social distance and limit the virus spread in hopes of a fall to remember.