If Arkansas keeps trending the way it is in terms of its number of covid-19 cases, recoveries, hospitalizations and other data points, Gov. Asa Hutchinson says we can all expect a chance to have football games this fall.
OK, football fans, do you want that chance?
The more important immediate question to me is whether I'll get to see the St. Louis Cardinals play this year, in person or even just on TV. But in Arkansas, football rules the fall, and Hogs, Red Wolves, Bears, Bulldogs, Mounties, Wolverines, Tigers, Wildcats, War Eagles and an entire zoo of other pigskin predators are undoubtedly eager to compete.
On Friday, a reporter asked Hutchinson his outlook for college sports as it relates to the state's covid-19 response. The governor's Economic Recovery Task Force, headed by Steuart Walton, will make recommendations about fall sports as well as youth sports this summer, Hutchinson said. College athletics faces the complication of myriad approvals and standards from different schools, conferences, the NCAA and other regulatory bodies.
Hutchinson said he's optimistic Arkansas will get where it needs to be to allow fall sports on college and high school campuses to happen, but it's too early to know. Hutchinson said, "I guarantee you, I'm pulling for that outcome."
Absent a vaccine -- for covid-19, not for football fanaticism -- going to mass gatherings in the fall will still carry a heightened risk of infection.
Keep in mind that among the biggest threats arising from any gathering is the introduction of the virus by any visitor who is not normally part of the group. You can have a whole family, for example, that is virus free, but if infected Cousin Martha from Mississippi comes calling and gets all huggy, it's the chain reaction she sets off that's the problem.
Don't forget that every time a university sends its players out on the field, there's a visiting team on the other sideline, and visiting fans in the stands.
For Razorback fans in September, for example, that means welcoming teams and fans from Reno, Nev., to Razorback Stadium. It also means sending our team and fans who like to travel to away games to South Bend, Ind., (Notre Dame) and to Starkville, Miss. (Mississippi State). And it means sending both teams, coaches, staff and fans to Dallas when the Hogs play Texas A&M from College Station.
I'm no statistician. But even I can figure out that the chances of "community spread" increases a lot when people from different communities are filling up stadiums together.
But what are Arkansas teams to do, just play in-state competitors? The ground just shook up on The Hill.
Beyond all that are economic questions: Are people going to be eager come September to spend their money on tailgating, tickets, travel and the like? Or will they have gotten used to sports having a more limited role in their lives? That's got to be a concern for athletic directors when it comes to making sure games pick up in the fall: If games don't happen, will people begin to realize other viable options they have for their time and money?
Will you be willing to take your kids or, maybe even more daunting, your parents to a football stadium? Now, getting beer or a soda dumped on you from a clumsy fan won't be near as unnerving as sitting beside someone who coughs a lot.
As fans, we're fortunate. We don't have to decide until almost game time. Colleges and conferences have to be making plans now with a lot still unknown.
I love the idea of going to Razorback Stadium in the fall, to see what Sam Pittman puts on the field. But I can't blame anyone for viewing the venue as much as a Petri dish as a stadium.
Commentary on 05/10/2020