Red All Over: Utah athletics has more questions than answers in the face of COVID-19

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers with Layton Construction and Mountain Crane began dismantling the 2002 Winter Olympic Cauldron located on the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium complex, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. As part of the stadium's expansion project, the 19-year old cauldron will be restored to its former brilliance and re-installed on the grounds of Rice-Eccles Stadium, north of the ticket office, in 2021.

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The University of Utah athletic department is at a standstill right now.

There are no games, there are no practices. There are not even students on campus right now to even consider holding practices, and that’s before we even get to the fact the Pac-12 put the kibosh on all sports competitions and championships.

We all have a lot of questions, but very few, if any answers right now, which leads us to living in hypotheticals as far as sports go. To pass the time during your self-quarantine, here are a bunch of unanswerable questions, all of which pertain to Utes athletics.

• At the time of cancellation, the Utah football team was through three spring practices, with 12 more to go, culminating with the Red-White Game on April 11. Those 12 were supposed to begin on Tuesday, once students were back from spring break. At some point, are the Utes going to get those 12 practices back? A similar question goes for most every college football program in America.

• Quite frankly, with so much turnover, Utah needs every practice rep it can get. If it doesn’t get those 12 practice sessions back, how does that affect position battles, specifically at quarterback, where a spring/summer competition between Jake Bentley and Cam Rising was just getting cranked up.

• If COVID-19 doesn’t take over everything, does the Utah basketball team make the NIT? The win over Colorado to close the regular season helped the cause and put the Utes in line for a potential top-4 seed and a home game. The Pac-12 Tournament loss to Oregon State threw a wrench in things. Utah was still in decent shape going into Thursday, but we’ll never know how that played out.

• Will football and basketball recruits be able to arrive for summer sessions on time? Per Utah’s academic calendar, first session and term length classes are slated to begin on May 11, with second session classes scheduled to start on June 18. We don’t know yet, but May 11 seems optimistic right now for getting things back to normal. If recruits can’t show up for summer sessions, that puts them behind both academically and athletically. Again, not exclusive to Utah, but worth noting.

• Are there Utah student athletes thinking about or nearing transfer decisions who are now in a holding pattern along with the rest of the world? The fact the list of names in the transfer portal continues to grow each day is one of the more absurd things going on right now in sports.

• How will Larry Krystkowiak and his staff be able to effectively recruit? The three major sneaker circuits — Nike, Under Armour and Adidias — have already canceled events during evaluation periods in April. There are no promises that those events will come back, nor has there been any word from the NCAA as to whether or not an extra evaluation period or periods will be added to the calendar. That also affects 2021 recruits as much as coaching staffs, maybe more so.

Give me back my NCAA Tournament

I am completely useless during the first two days of the NCAA Tournament.

Actually, let me clarify.

I will wake up on the first two days of the NCAA Tournament, do whatever adulting I need to do in the morning, and, if I’m not actually at an NCAA Tournament site, and if I don’t need to be anywhere for work in the afternoon, I am watching those first two days from beginning to end.

It saddens me that, with the COVID-19 pandemic dictating all facets of life, there is no NCAA Tournament this year. That first Thursday and Friday are genuinely two of my favorite days of the entire year, and I am positive I’m not alone. No games, no brackets, no Charles Barkley pretending he knows anything about college basketball, no fighting to stay awake to the end of that final game after you’ve been watching non-stop for 12 hours.


Your questions

Q: “Josh, Long time, first time...How has the transition been?” — @pfm724

A: Good to hear from my guy Pat Montferrat back in New Jersey. The transition was more seamless than I ever anticipated. Everybody has been great. Although, we just had a 5.7 earthquake here in Salt Lake City, so I am rethinking every decision I’ve ever made that led me to this point.

Q: “What was your thought process on moving from the East Coast & besides food, what do you miss the most?” — @UnholiestJedi

A: My thought process on moving from the East Coast was pretty simple. One, I was offered a significant step forward in my career at The Salt Lake Tribune. Two, my wife is from the West Coast, so I wanted to get her closer to where she wanted to be. All told, there wasn’t much discussion once I got the job offer.

Presently, I don’t miss much, but I suspect that changes once we hit summer and warm weather. In my previous life, I was living in a beach town, less than a block from the Atlantic Ocean. Obviously, beach life is not happening in Utah.

Q: “With eight picks, the Jets are contractually obligated to take a Ute. Who you taking?” — @Tim_Populi

A: Worlds colliding here. The Jets tended to one problem this week when they signed a trio offensive linemen to multi-year deals this week. Another problem is cornerback, and Utah has a very good one going to the NFL Draft in Jaylon Johnson.

Two slight, but not prohibitive problems here. Three of the Jets’ eight picks are 48th, 68th, and 79th overall. Taking Johnson 48th overall in the second round might be a reach, while he may not be around for those two third-round picks, but this is a hypothetical scenario, so whatever.

Second, if the Jets are going to have to wait for his surgically-repaired right labrum to heal. Johnson had surgery on March 4, with the timeline standing at 4-5 months. Johnson is expected to be ready for his rookie season.

Q: “Got any TP?” — @Bmooregd

A: I’m well-stocked. Do you need some? Each square will run you $2. My Venmo is @JoshuaNewman

Random musings

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” — Aristotle

• So, how about that earthquake. I was outside with the dog and to be honest, I thought I was maybe losing my mind due to cabin fever, but no, that was definitely the ground shaking and the lights around me flickering.

• On a positive note, I am now a three-time earthquake survivor, so that’s going into my resume and probably my Twitter bio as well.

• On March 1, my wife made a very large, very expensive Costco run, just as it started to look like coronavirus might turn into a serious problem in the United States. I laughed at her and said that was unnecessary. She has had no problem reminding me of that this week.

• There have been some screams to crown Kansas as the national champion. I disagree. The Jayhawks have the strongest case as the best team in the country. No argument there, but to call them national champions and actually hang a banner, without playing the event that, you know, decides the national champion, is disingenuous. Hopefully, that banner includes an asterisk.

• Last Tuesday night, I was sitting at the sportsbook at South Point in Las Vegas, watching the first round of the ACC Tournament. At the time, I thought, at worst, the latter rounds of the Pac-12 Tournament would be played with no fans. Boy, was I wrong.

• If/when the NBA season resumes, extends into the summer, and the Olympics remain as scheduled in Tokyo, I look forward to seeing who we send over there to represent the United States. NBA players are not bailing to play in the Olympics, nor would they be allowed to. I imagine it would be a team of G-League players, similar to Olympic qualifying. This is one of many unanswerable basketball questions right now.

• St. Patrick’s Day is one of the worst amateur hours on the calendar, rivaled by New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve, and Thanksgiving Eve. The fact bars were closed on Tuesday was a plus for everyone.

• There is obviously a lot of working from home right now. I started working a lot more from home in 2014, so here is my main piece of advice. Treat your mornings like you’re really going to work. Take a shower, shave if applicable, put on some fresh clothes, have some breakfast. Your productivity level will increase if you’re not lounging around in your flannel pajama pants all day.

• I have used my self-quarantine as an opportunity to experiment with growing a beard. As I sit here on Wednesday, I haven’t shaved in a week, the longest stretch I can remember. Long story short, I’m not sure I have the patience to see this through, and as soon as I really have to be somewhere and/or see someone, I’m likely aborting the mission.

• A basketball movie is only as good as its basketball scenes. White Men Can’t Jump is the greatest basketball movie of all-time, Above The Rim is a respectable No. 2. As a hoops movie, Love & Basketball absolutely stinks, but as a love story, it is terrific.