Arkansas baseball is off to its best start ever, rolling through a hellacious schedule that has established Arkansas as the clear-cut best team in the nation so far.
The No. 1 Razorbacks are 26-5 and 9-3 in the SEC, the toughest conference in the country.
That includes winning two out of three games against No. 3 Ole Miss over the weekend, just the latest in a string of impressive outings.
Before that, Arkansas had beaten No. 3 Texas, swept No. 4 Mississippi State, beaten No. 8 Texas Tech, beaten No. 12 TCU and taken two out of three against No. 12 Louisiana Tech.
The most impressive part?
Every single of one of those wins was on the road or at a neutral site.
It’s a good thing Arkansas baseball players are proving to be so adept at winning on the road. Thanks to an announcement by the NCAA on Monday, they may need to keep doing just that in the postseason.
The NCAA, college sports’ organizing body, released a statement supporting the rights of transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports that could have direct bearing on Razorback athletics going forward.
In part, it reads: “Our approach — which requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women’s sports — embraces the evolving science on this issue and is anchored in participation policies of both the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.”
At the end of the statement, the NCAA dropped the hammer:
“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected.”
“We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”
Here, the NCAA is indirectly trying to influence politics on a state by state level.
Four states — Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Idaho — have enacted transgender sports bans, although a federal judge stopped Idaho’s law from taking effect in August.
The Arkansas law prohibits transgender women from competing in women’s school sports at all levels in the state.
Since this will likely be interpreted by the NCAA as a form of discrimination, it means that the state of Arkansas may soon be off limits for hosting championship events.
In the short term, that could affect Arkansas baseball and Arkansas softball, another top 10 program.
“Arkansas has submitted bids to host regionals and super regionals in both baseball and softball,” HawgBeat.com’s Andrew Hutchinson reported.
“No definitive dates have been set, but the NCAA has indicated it will select the sites for softball the week of April 26 and baseball the week of May 10. The UA is also slated to host NCAA events in track, gymnastics and golf in upcoming years.”
The NCAA isn’t just looking to affect legislation that has already passed but legislation that is pending in more than 20 other states. The Associated Press found that, in almost all states considering bans, the bill’s sponsors weren’t aware of any cases in which trans girls’ participation caused problems.
The NCAA has threatened to do this kind of thing before with other states.
In 2016, the NCAA pulled seven championship games out of North Carolina after its governor signed what was known as the “bathroom bill,” requiring transgender people to use the bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates.
Then, in 2020, its Board of Governors expanded a ban to include all championship events in states that displayed the Confederate flag.
Hutchinson notes: “That would have prevented schools in Mississippi – such as Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss – from hosting regionals or super regionals in baseball, but it never came to that because voters in the state decided to replace the flag less than five months later.”
Asa Hutchinson Criticizes the NCAA
The NCAA appears to be trying to strong-arm state legislatures to do what they want. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson isn’t a fan of that.
“It is disappointing to see the NCAA take this punitive approach,” Hutchinson said on Monday evening.
“Sports does not need to disenfranchise a state just because it passes a law that the NCAA finds objectionable. As time goes on, I expect the NCAA to relax its position because there are already multiple states that have adopted a similar law as we have in Arkansas.”
Here’s Gov. @AsaHutchinson’s response to the NCAA’s statement concerning the possibility of not hosting championship events in states with laws that impact transgender student-athletes: pic.twitter.com/oklKVmwzwz
— Bart Pohlman (@BartPohlman) April 12, 2021
Of course, Hutchinson himself had been the target of some high-profile criticism last week after he vetoed an additional bill that bans hormone therapy and other treatments for people under the age of 18. (Hutchison had supported the transgender sports ban.)
“This is the first law in the nation that invokes the state between medical decisions, parents who consent to that and the decision of the patient,” he told Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host and former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter.
“And so, this goes way too far. And in fact, it doesn’t even have a grandfather clause [for] those young people that are under hormonal treatment.”
Hutchinson’s veto of this bill earned him the red-faced wrath of a certain orange-haired former president.
“Asa Hutchinson, the lightweight RINO Governor of Arkansas, just vetoed a Bill that banned the CHEMICAL CASTRATION OF CHILDREN,” Donald Trump bellowed in a statement last Thursday.
“‘Bye-bye Asa,’ that’s the end of him! Fortunately for the Great State of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders [my former journalism classmate at Little Rock Central] will do a fantastic job as your next Governor!”
Walmart, the longtime Razorback sports sponsor, also entered the equation through the opinion of Tom Walton, the grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton.
Tom Walton spoke out in response to bills that also targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas, including the trans athletes’ law, and the law banning transition care or minors.
“We support Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s recent veto of discriminatory policy and implore government, business and community leaders to consider the impact of existing and future policy that limits basic freedoms and does not promote inclusiveness in our communities and economy,” Walton said.
Something Far Less Controversial: Arkansas Baseball is Kickass
Whether the NCAA blocks the hosting of postseason games for Arkansas baseball and softball teams or not is yet to be determined.
But, in the bigger picture, it’s clear that the NCAA is increasingly using its power to affect state legislation around what it deems to be matters of justice and equality. Agree or disagree with this trend, there’s no avoiding it. It’s becoming just as inevitable as the transfer portal expanding in college basketball.
Another inevitability is the Arkansas baseball team winning a national title under Dave Van Horn.
Hammer on the door enough times and it will eventuallly break open.
The Razorback baseball team’s ability to win away from home has been “scary good,” says Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin.
So has the Hogs’ ability to come from behind in the late innings.
“They blew an 11-run lead against Ole Miss and just when it looked like they had thrown that game away they scored three runs against the Rebels closer in the 8th.”
“One more in the 9th and Kevin Kopps, who was out of gas pitching for the second time in two days, the fifth time over the last two weekends, struck out three straight batters to end it after giving up a walk and a single to open the inning.”
On social media, one fan posted: “I love what you guys are doing but you scare me to death. Could you win a few games without any drama? Please.”
Irwin discusses Arkansas baseball in depth below. At the 27:00 marker, he talks about the reopening of Baum-Walker Stadium to full capacity again: