Poll: Arkansans ready for fall football despite coronavirus concerns

Are you ready for some football?

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey shows that 45% of likely voters across Arkansas think college athletes should compete on the gridiron this fall. Only 29% are against it. The poll was taken on Tuesday, June 9 and Wednesday, June 10 of 869 statewide likely voters and has a margin of error of +/-3.3%.

The response to college football in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic tracks with the overall feeling toward Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s handling of local business restrictions.

“A plurality of voters (44%) felt that the reopening was happening at the right pace, while just over three in ten felt that the reopening was occurring too quickly considering the public health risks,” explained Dr. Jay Barth, emeritus professor of politics at Hendrix College. Barth helped craft and analyze the latest poll.

Remarkably, 26% of those surveyed were unsure whether colleges and universities should play football this fall. Though several questions must be answered before team contact sports can be considered, that seems like a large portion to be undecided.

Tusk to Tail discusses the likelihood of the 2020 football season almost daily. That may be why the numbers are more clearly split within our group of Razorback tailgaters. When asked the same question, 80% of TTT felt there will be some form of a college football season this year. Our responses approached the topic from all angles. Some solutions were offered. More new questions arose. Dale Cullins sounded the most confident when asked if there should be a college football season.

“I’m not sure if it’s a question of ‘should’ but rather ‘can they afford not to?’ Just like the schools trying to find safe ways for the students, the athletic directors have to find ways to get players on the fields and courts.”

We all agree that Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek has some tough decisions to make. Mark Wagner pointed out that “the number of games, how the scheduling should look, and what happens if a second wave of coronavirus hits are all things that need to be addressed.”

Fear of a second wave of infections clearly influenced the 20% of our crew who felt games should not be played this fall. Mac Garland asked,“What if the season starts and then it has to abruptly stop? Isn’t that worse than taking a year off?” Garland also referenced Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute who believes we’ll have another 100,000 deaths in the United States by September based on the current number occurring each day.

“Now factor that in with no vaccine this fall, and the possibility of the virus mutating,” Sean Casey continued.

Greg Houser believes playing should be on a voluntary basis due to the risks. “How can you require college kids to play if they don’t feel safe,” he asked. “The great thing for college football is it’s going to be able to learn from the experiences of the NBA and other professional leagues who seem eager to get back to play,” replied Willard Grandview. “Can their athletes avoid contracting and spreading the virus? Can they assemble even modest crowds in stadiums without people getting infected? Will their TV ratings be stronger than ever? The answers to those questions will set the tone for college football in the fall.”

If the season is played, the fans will almost certainly be asked to make concessions. We’re not talking hot dogs and popcorn. Sam Atkinson foresees “all kinds of temperature checks and scanning to refuse anyone with fever or symptoms. Masks may be mandatory, then reevaluate each week.”

One decision may be to limit attendance to promote safe distancing in the stands. “Whoever comes up with a plan for partial attendance will either be A) a freaking genius or B) vilified by everyone,” Wagner said, “I’m choosing option B,”

Craig May foresees a possible “all or none deal” when it comes to allowing fans, admitting that a season with no fans might make the most sense. The players would get to play, and fans could watch the games on tv. A school like Arkansas could likely survive a season on their television revenue. The alternative is not so clear cut.

“If they say we’re going to be at 35% capacity, how do you determine who those people are and where do they sit,” May asked.

Wagner wondered if the band would be allowed to attend games, explaining they take a lot of valuable space, and social distancing is hardly an option.

“It’s hard for the tuba section to be in Section 117 when the piccoloes are playing in Section 111,” explained Wagner.

When asked if enclosed luxury suites that are typically filled with wealthy donors should be given priority over the common fan in the bleachers, Craig was resolute. “If you pick favorites you start pissing people off.”

“We’re going to have a college football season, but probably nothing like we’ve seen in the past,” May concluded. “I’m not sure we’re going to be able to have a full stadium and all day tailgates. Right now, there seems to be a lot of questions and not many answers, but once the deadline passes for renewing season tickets and annual contributions, we will start getting more information. I’m not sure it’s going to be what we want to hear.”

Editor’s note: Now in its eighth year, Tusk to Tail is the sport of tailgating as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together sober and otherwise for more than a decade. The primary focus of Tusk to Tail will be to follow the Hogs through the fans’ perspective with their insightful, irreverent, smart-alecky and sometimes practical style. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.

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