SALT LAKE CITY — There is great joy in Uteville. There is also a sense of guarded optimism.
Utah athletics director Mark Harlan said he’s very excited for the student-athletes after the Pac-12 announced start dates for football and basketball. Rapid COVID-19 testing and agreements with local health authorities led to the conference lifting postponements originally extended to Jan. 1.
There’s more to it, however, and the Utes know it.
“We have a great responsibility to continue to have all our guidelines in place and be very strict that we all follow the protocols as we head into this next step,” said Harlan, who credited students, staff, coaches and administrators for helping get things to this point during the coronavirus pandemic. Football games can begin Nov. 6 and basketball on Nov. 25.
“It starts with our student-athletes who have shown their absolute dedication to do the right things to be focused on the things that they can control as this whole virus has developed. And I’m really proud of them,” Harlan continued. “The fact that we were able to deliver this news to them (Thursday) was really one of the best moments of my entire career. I want to thank our doctors and our trainers for their absolute commitment to creating the best possible path for us here at the University of Utah. Incredible collaboration, not only with the athletic medical team but with the campus medical team as well.”
Harlan said Utah officials have always felt that a safe environment exists for all athletes in all sports to practice and compete.
“We’re excited about everything that they’ve provided us throughout this process and we’re very grateful,” said Harlan, who praised the leadership of university president Ruth Watkins throughout the ongoing crisis.
The football program also received kudos during a Zoom call Harlan had with the media on Friday. The Utes have been working out under the NCAA’s 12-hour model, which includes five hours of skill instruction on the field each week.
“Coach (Kyle) Whittingham has really worked with his coaches and have really developed a great system, dividing the team out and utilizing those hours,” Harlan said. “So he’ll make the decision on what he wants to do.”
The immediate choice is moving to a 20-hour per week model that includes less on-field activity but more film and weight room work.
“So we really have two choices here at the University of Utah and the rest of the league,” said Harlan, who added that the Utes will open training camp Oct. 9 or 10.
Machines for the rapid testing of COVID-19 have already arrived on campus, giving officials time to get familiar with their usage. Every school in the Pac-12 will have the devices in place.
“We’re going through training with the folks that will be running that and look forward to hopefully getting it operational here really, really soon if not by next week,” Harlan said.