FAYETTEVILLE - The Southeastern Conference casts a worrisome eye towards the University of Arkansas if Arkansas’ House of Representatives don’t go along with the Arkansas Senate’s Friday vote to exempt collegiate sporting events in Arkansas from law HB 1249 to take effect in September allowing concealed weapons to be carried on college campuses in Arkansas by those with certified proof of a course in handling firearms.
All of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ men and women athletics teams have been part of the SEC since 1992, but it seems, by a statement made Tuesday by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, their presence in the SEC could be jeopardized by league concerns over the safety of athletes, officials and fans should the UA be compelled to allow guns in the stands.
No SEC school, or it is believed any NCAA school, allows fans carrying firearms to attend athletic events.
The law was passed by the legislature over the objections of the UA and other universities around the state who had opted out of a previous proposal allowing faculty to carry concealed weapons.
“The University of Arkansas is a valued member of the Southeastern Conference and has a long history of working with public safety officials to provide a safe environment for intercollegiate athletic competition,” Sankey said in a statement issued Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. “It is our desire to see athletic events and sports venues exempted from HB 1249. Given the intense atmosphere surrounding athletic events, adding weapons increases safety concerns and could negatively impact the intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Arkansas in several ways, including scheduling, officiating, recruiting and attendance. HB 1249 creates concerns for the Southeastern Conference and its member institutions. It remains our collective desire to provide a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, officials and fans, and will continue to closely monitor the status of this legislation.”
The Razorbacks already seemed at risk, should guns be allowed at games, of ever again hosting such NCAA championship events as the NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and NCAA Baseball Regionals they have hosted or the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Regional the UA hosts Saturday at Barnhill Arena.
Obviously trying not to offend any voting on a pending issue but also obviously concerned about players and fans safety at future Razorbacks football games, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Monday in response to a question about the gun issue: “Just an initial reaction, because I'm the head coach at Arkansas, of course ... my only thing that jumps out right away was concern with how it was going to be handled,” Bielema said. “They didn't call me on the voting, I know that, and I try not to comment too much on things. But I'm ultimately going to go to a kid in recruiting from around this country, and in Hjalte's (offensive guard Hjalte Froholdt from Denmark) case from around the world, and when I say to a parent, 'I take your sons safety to the highest degree in my heart,' I don't ever want to put that in jeopardy. It sounds like their are going to be a couple different options come up so I'll just lay quiet until we get the rule and go about it from there.”
Arkansas Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Anderson also was asked Monday about the issue also replied with caution.
“We have concerns about this process and now we are waiting to see if the amendment passes and see how it affects us,” Anderson said.
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long has not commented publicly on the issue of concealed firearms allowed at Razorbacks games.