Hunter Yurachek Needs to See Arkansas Baseball Succeed for A Certain Urgent Reason

Hunter Yurachek
Credit: Craven Whitlow

The 2023-24 school year has all too quickly turned into a dream of spring for Razorback fans. 

A Dream of Spring is supposed to be the title of the conclusion to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire unfinished series (which is the foundation of the Game of Thrones show), and not unlike that fantasy epic, Hog fans suffering through epically disappointing football and basketball seasons still have a chance to end the sports year with a long-sought national championship for Dave Van Horn and the Diamond Hogs.

Many people expected this year’s football and men’s basketball teams to not just be decent, but great. It wasn’t unusual to see articles about how this was expected to be Sam Pittman’s best team at Arkansas, and Eric Musselman’s newly assembled squad started out the season ranked 14th in the AP top 25 poll and was picked 3rd in the SEC media preseason poll.

As Hog fans now know all too well, both programs not only failed to reach those expectations, but have endured historic collapses that have left many fans wondering if some players have “quit” on the field and on the the court. The leadership from returning players has largely failed to materialize. The football team was hardly even competitive throughout the second half of the season save for the win at Florida, and the basketball team is now 1-6 in SEC play, only scoring at least 70 points once, and twice only managing 51 points including the most lopsided loss in the history of Bud Walton Arena. 

To be fair, the basketball team showed some life this weekend in its loss to Kentucky, and still has opportunities to win several games between now and the SEC Tournament. Even in College GameDay’s broadcast from Fayetteville this weekend, much was made of Musselman’s team’s tendencies to win in February and March. However, this team’s losses in non conference play and embarrassing blowouts in SEC games have caused many fans to fully look toward the baseball team for any hope of success in the three most popular sports this year.

Lofty Expectations for Arkansas Basketball, Football

Given the lofty expectation for football and basketball, placing similar expectations on Arkansas baseball is reason to cause some heartburn. The baseball team has been ranked as high as third nationally in some preseason polls. Fans can be forgiven for having some PTSD after what they’ve experienced over the last six months, but if there’s any program to have faith in, it’s baseball.

Van Horn’s program has achieved a level of elite consistency that is rare in college sports. An SEC championship, hosting in the NCAA Tournament, and reaching the College World Series are all reasonable expectations and things the program has achieved recently. A national championship has been elusive, but it’s still very much on the table, and would be an great chaser to the dumpster year fans have suffered through so far.

It’s doubtful that football and basketball have caused the baseball team to feel any extra pressure to start the season. The baseball team’s history of national title near-misses and the opportunity to finally get over that hump should provide all the motivation necessary to perform at the level fans hope to see. 

Fans, on the other hand, are likely feeling more pressure to see baseball succeed. Here’s to hoping that won’t result in any additional problems if the baseball team ever deals with a slump of its own. Online toxicity is an unfortunate side-effect of fandom these days, so hopefully the players are trained on some level to try to tune it out before it causes unnecessary damage.

What Hunter Yurachek Needs

Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek would certainly like to see something positive that could turn fans’ mood around. The bad football and basketball seasons, the decision to retain Sam Pittman, and rumors of struggles to adapt to the new NIL landscape have caused some fans to sour on Yurachek. 

The Hogs have attempted to address the NIL issue with the new Arkansas Edge collective, but much like traditional foundation donations, it’s harder to convince fans to contribute when the programs are struggling. A successful baseball season would go a long way toward generating enthusiasm for Arkansas sports heading into the summer and the next year, which should in turn drive more contributions and donations, and more general support for Yurachek. In essence, he needs DVH’s unit to succeed a pressure reliever.

Some of Arkansas’ other programs have had successful seasons and are growing in popularity – the soccer team won the SEC championship, volleyball reached the Elite Eight, gymnastics is ranked 4th in the country right now, and the softball team is picked 12th in the nation in the preseason poll – but unfortunately those don’t yet tug the emotions and wallets to the degree that football, basketball and baseball do.

Fairly or unfairly, that means a lot of people – both fans and administrators – really, really need the Diamond Hogs to come through this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean winning a national title, but living up to expectations, winning games, winning series, and earning a strong postseason seed will bring some much needed excitement back to Fayetteville. After the last several months, it’s hard not to feel like it should finally be Arkansas’ turn. 

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