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Utes shut down spring football indefinitely because of coronavirus concerns

Practices will not resume as planned next week.

The University of Utah football team opens spring camp in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 2, 2020.
The University of Utah football team opens spring camp in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 2, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football will not resume spring practices next week as previously planned, the university announced Friday.

“In alignment with Pac-12 Conference members, all Utah athletics team practices and organized athletic activities will be suspended for an indefinite period of time in the best interests of the health of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, in an attempt to help limit the spread of the coronavirus,” reads a statement released to the media.

“The decision follows yesterday’s cancellation of all intercollegiate athletics competitions by the Pac-12, Utah athletics and other athletics organizations,” it continued. “The University of Utah announced Thursday it will transition to online instruction beginning next Wednesday.”

Mark Harlan, Utah’s director of athletics, addressed the situation which includes spring football not resuming next week as planned.

“We understand the seriousness of this worldwide pandemic and support every measure being taken in the interests of public health and safety,” Harlan said. “I also want to acknowledge the extreme disappointment our student-athletes are experiencing as they adjust to the finality of this on so many levels. We will continue to support them in every way while giving them the freedom to make the safest and healthiest decisions for them.”

Utah athletics department officials added that its most important priority “is to safeguard the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, fans and media.”

The department “will continue to monitor all new developments and remain in regular communication with university leadership as we employ the most responsible and cautious approach in alignment with recommendations from state and local health officials.”

Spring break had broken up Utah’s spring football schedule. After getting in three days of practice last week, the Utes were scheduled to be off until March 17. They planned to get in 12 more practices and were scheduled to wrap things up on April 11.

“You rely on them to continually watch film and get in their playbooks,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said when asked how the team would stay sharp during the originally planned break. “And above everything else is take care of themselves — eat right, sleep right and all those type of things.”

Whittingham noted that the first day back would involve conditioning and meetings to get everyone up to speed mentally. Then, on Tuesday, they’ll “hopefully hit the ground running.”

The Utes capped their first week of spring ball with a padded practice last Thursday.

“It was really good, particularly from the offensive perspective and that’s what you would expect,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got what eight returning starters on offense so there’s a lot of continuity coming back.

“Defense, there’s a lot of new faces. It’s a complete revamping of the defense and so we’d be probably worried if that was not the case and so that’s to be expected. The offense is ahead right now,” he continued.

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is back, so the Utes weren’t spending a lot of time installing a new scheme in spring ball.

“So that being the case, it’s right where we expected,” Whittingham said. “And the defense, hopefully, will get better and better as the spring goes on.”