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Utah Utes: Postponements could cost school $50-60 million this year

While postponing fall sports was a difficult move, Utah athletics director Mark Harlan ‘fully supportive of that decision’

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A Utah Utes fan cheers as the team huddles up during warm-ups before the start of a NCAA football game between the Utah Utes and Arizona State Sun Devils at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.

Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As far as Utah athletics director Mark Harlan is concerned, it’s about “controlling the controllables.” The Pac-12’s unanimous decision to postpone fall sports, including the highly lucrative football season, made Tuesday a difficult day up on the hill. Even so, Harlan expressed optimism that the Utes would move forward despite the disappointment — focusing on what they can.

It’ll be a challenge financially and a big one at that. Harlan and his staff knew it was a possibility with the pandemic and plans have been made to deal with it. The loss of income, he said, could be $50-60 million on a $91 million budget.

“That is going to cause us to have to make some very difficult decisions as it relates to the operation of our department this year.” — Utah athletic director Mark Harlan

“That is going to cause us to have to make some very difficult decisions as it relates to the operation of our department this year,” said Harlan, who led an all-staff meeting before a Zoom conference with the media on Wednesday.

“We know it’s going to be a really tough road ahead,” he continued, noting that they’ve been consulting with university leadership and the Pac-12 has provided options to explore. “But we don’t hide from the fact it’s going to be a great challenge for us going forward.”

Harlan said there were heavy decisions ahead that would impact a lot of people, but preparations are being made to handle it in the best possible way.  

Scholarships will not affected and Harlan declined to comment on any cuts. 

“That’s work that we need to do and certainly we want to communicate with our own staff before we talk about anything publicly,” he said.

Prior to Tuesday’s postponement announcement by the Pac-12, Zoom meetings were held for student-athletes and coaches at Utah.

Harlan said breaking the news of postponement ranks up there with some of the hardest things he’s ever been involved with as director of athletics. He noted it was almost five months to the day when athletes in spring sports and some winter programs received similar notification. 

The continued effect of the coronavirus, Harlan added, is ongoing as it relates to the dream of competing. Like the other 11 schools in the Pac-12, he said the program was going to follow guidelines, principles and advice from the conference’s medical advisory group.

Approximately two weeks ago, the board brought greater concerns about where the virus numbers were in the 12 conference cities and how the spread was still prevalent in many of the communities. Early studies about COVID-19 and heart damage were also analyzed.

It all was enough to present great concern and unanswered questions, Harlan explained, of putting the student-athletes into harm’s way. As such it was decided by the Pac-12 CEO Group to postpone all sports competitions until at least Jan. 1 to see where things are at in terms of better understanding the virus.

“I’m fully supportive of that decision,” Harlan said. “Every day I think about the well-being physically and mentally of our student-athletes. Certainly this decision falls right in line with caring about all of them.”