Utah football’s Kyle Whittingham believes spring practices and even the 2020 season could be in trouble

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) University of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing readers free access to critical local stories about the coronavirus during this time of heightened concern. See more coverage here. To support journalism like this, please consider donating or become a subscriber.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so does the possibility of future sporting events getting postponed or canceled.

The University of Utah football program got through just three spring practices, March 2, 3 and 5, before taking a week off for spring break. On March 13, Utah postponed practice indefinitely. The Pac-12 came over the top of that decision the next day by prohibiting all organized team athletic-related activities until at least March 29

That March 29 date always felt tenuous for a spring practice restart, and Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham knows it.

“I think spring ball is probably out the window,” Whittingham said Monday afternoon on a conference call with beat writers. “There’s very little, if any chance of that happening, at least in the normal, prescribed, spring ball window.”

Under normal circumstances, Utah was slated to get back to practice on March 17, the fourth of 15 practices. The Utes were to go three times per week from there, culminating with the annual Red-White Game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Instead, Whittingham believes the NCAA or Pac-12 may modify the summer structure or fall camp to compensate for the loss of spring practice sessions. The problem there, as Whittingham astutely noted, is how to do that fairly. According to a story earlier this week from The Athletic, UConn and Coastal Carolina finished spring practice, while small a handful of FBS programs were close to being finished.

Most Pac-12 schools were either early in spring practice, while Colorado, Washington State and Washington had yet to begin. Arizona State got through a league-high six sessions, while having had the earliest scheduled spring game, March 28.

“There is a small percentage of schools that got all their practices in and another handful that got maybe halfway or two-thirds in,” Whittingham said. “Most, I believe, are in the same boat that we are where you only got just a few in. I think there will be a lot of discussion on how they’re going to handle it to make it equitable if in fact come May, June or July, we have an option to do that. This is all to be determined and very fluid right now."

Utah, which has to replace a slew of key players on both sides of the ball coming off an 11-3 season, is scheduled to open the season on Sept. 3 against BYU. It may seem premature to question whether or not a season five months away will start on time, but everything is on the table right now. Postponing events that are months away was brought to the forefront Monday when USA Today reported that the Tokyo Olympics, slated to begin on July 24, will be postponed, likely to 2021. That reporting came with the IOC facing mounting pressure from national governing bodies, namely Canada and Australia.

College football getting postponed remains to be seen.

“Things are changing daily, and we’re just trying to keep up with what’s going on in the moment, but I think there’s absolutely that possibility, as much as I hate to say it,” Whittingham said. “Our charge right now as a department, as a football staff, is just doing our part to follow the guidelines, yet still try to maximize what we can do with our players and for our players.”