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Phase one: Utes back on campus for voluntary workouts

Strict procedures being followed because of pandemic.

University of Utah student-athletes were welcomed back to campus for voluntary workouts on Monday.
University of Utah Athletics Department

SALT LAKE CITY — Phase one of voluntary in-person workouts at the University of Utah got under way Monday with student-athletes from basketball, football, gymnastics, soccer and volleyball being allowed to use on-campus facilities under strict guidelines because of the coronavirus pandemic.

”I’m thankful for the outstanding members of our staff who have worked tirelessly to create a safe and productive environment to begin the return to campus process,” Utah athletics director Mark Harlan said in a story released on UtahUtes.com. “Thank you, also, to our student-athletes, who have been so patient. The many months away from each other makes the days ahead special.”

The first group featured 90 student-athletes who have resided within 100 miles of the Utah campus since March. Participants started reporting June 10 for physical exams and testing (antibody and PCR COVID-19).

In an effort to eliminate crossover between the different sports, satellite weight rooms have been established. The football team will hold voluntary workouts under reduced capacity at the Eccles Football Center. Men’s basketball is at the College of Health PEAK weight room, while women’s basketball has set up shop on the practice gym balcony at the Huntsman Basketball Facility. Gymnastics, soccer and volleyball are operating out of the Dumke Gymnastics Center, Ute Field and Crimson Court, respectively.

”We are excited to welcome the first phase of student-athletes returning for voluntary workouts,” said deputy athletics director Kyle Brennan, who oversaw the committee that planned the return. “The athletic training staff, sports performance team, facilities staff and committee have worked tirelessly these past few weeks to ensure that we’re able to provide a comprehensive and safe environment for our student-athletes.

“In addition, we’re hopeful that the education and protocol we’ve provided for those returning as part of Phase I will create a culture of compliance moving forward into the fall,” he added in the announcement.

Citing a decision to make football student-athletes available for media availability throughout the month of May, a Utah athletics department spokesman said that no players from the team would be granting interviews at this time.

However, the football program’s official Twitter account featured photos of arriving players including out-of-staters Jake Bentley, Brant Kuithe and Jordan Wilmore, as well as the following tweets: “Back in the 801. It’s a great day to be a Ute” and “It’s a beautiful day to welcome some of our guys back to campus!”

Several Utah basketball players were made available for comments (read story here).

“I’m excited to see my coaches and teammates,” Jaxon Brenchley told the Deseret News. “I haven’t seen them for three months and I’m excited to get back in the groove.”

SI.com reported that Utah is one of six Pac-12 football programs scheduled to begin voluntary workouts on the conference-mandated opening day. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State and Washington State were the others.

The six other schools — California, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington — have yet to announce voluntary workout plans.

The second phase of Utah’s staggered schedule featuring out-of-state student-athletes from the initial six sports is set to begin June 22. All newcomers can report on June 28.

After evaluating the first three phases, the university is scheduled to bring student-athletes from all other sports back in a similar plan on July 13, 20 and 27. It is hoped to have everyone back on campus by Aug. 25.

In approving voluntary in-person workouts, the Pac-12 CEO Group noted that the June 15 start date was “subject to the decision of each individual campus and where permissible by relevant government entities.” It followed an earlier decision by the NCAA.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the conference is committed to the well-being of its student-athletes.

“The decision to allow for voluntary workouts, subject to a determination by each school, is guided by the advice of our medical experts and will be supported by the detailed protocols established by our medical advisory committee in concert with our campus’ own safety guidelines,” Scott said in the announcement.

“As states have either already opened or begin to open up access to parks, gyms and other training facilities, student-athletes should have the option at this time to be in, what for many, will be a much safer environment on campus, where they can have access to the best available health, well-being and training support.”

Before Utah student-athletes and designated staff members are permitted to return to campus facilities they are required to go through exams and testing. Other protocols in place include daily temperature checks, facemarks and wristbands. Players will be escorted within the facilities and must check-in at appointed workout times.