Will Utah play Cal State schools in basketball? 22 Pac-12 games is one contingency plan

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah bench celebrates Utah Utes guard Both Gach (11) who dunked on the Ducks in the second half. The University of Utah basketball team was defeated by Oregon, 64-69, Jan. 4, 2020, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

When the 23-campus California State University system announced last week that fall semester classes would mostly be held virtually, it brought up questions regarding athletics.

Specifically, attention turned to whether or not the Cal State System’s FBS members, San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State, would play football in 2020. The Aztecs announced Wednesday they intend to play a full fall sports schedule, but firm, solidified plans remain up in the air.

Football decision-making is at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic inside athletic departments, but at some point, decisions regarding basketball are going to have to be made. At a minimum, basketball-related discussions are currently ongoing at the University of Utah.

Including the three-game, high-profile Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving, the Utes have eight contracts signed against non-conference competition for the 2020-21 season, according to GRAMA requests made by The Salt Lake Tribune. Of those eight contracts, three are for games against schools from the Cal State system, Nov. 17 vs. Cal Poly, Nov. 20 vs. Cal State Fullerton and Dec. 19 vs. Fresno State.

The increasingly-likely scenario is that Cal State schools are open enough for in-person instruction to justify keeping athletic teams going, but with so much uncertainty across the country right now, what if those three schools cannot or opt to not make the trip to the Huntsman Center?

“You’ve got teams that are maybe paying guarantees, and football is probably going to be a better indicator of what takes place, but you’ve got budget issues,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told The Tribune last week. “So, does a football team want to pay $800,000 a team from across the country to come in to play when there’s a safety issue, or would it make more sense for them to play a local school that could jump on a bus and come down?

“I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to get into a little bit of that, and it’s probably too early to tell for basketball where we are, but it’s important that we have a backup plan. We’ve reached out to some locals. We’re playing two Utah schools (Utah Valley on Nov. 10 and BYU on Dec. 12) and you might end up playing more.”

To Krystkowiak’s point about football, Utah is slated to host Montana State on Sept. 12 for a guarantee of $675,000. An MSU athletics department spokesman declined comment regarding a contingency plan if the game does not get played because of COVID-19 concerns.

Between the three games against Cal State schools, Utah will hand out $285,000 in guarantees. If you tack on the guarantee-game bills associated with hosting Utah Valley and Rice (Dec. 22), the Utes are on the hook for a total of $455,000 across five games.

All five game contracts have a vaguely-worded clause for “uncontrollable forces” aka force majeure, as well as a “liquidated damages” clause.

If non-conference games have to be canceled or postponed, and schedules need to be filled, one contingency plan Krystkowiak tossed out there as being discussed is playing 22 Pac-12 games.

The league was at 18 games since it expanded from eight teams to 10 for the 1978-79 season. A move to 20 is already set beginning next season with Utah hosting Washington on Dec. 3 and traveling to potential Pac-12 title contender Arizona State on Dec. 6.

A move to 22, at least for next season, would produce a double round-robin where everyone plays everyone twice, home and away. Under the 20-game format for 2020-21, the Utes do not host Washington State, nor do they travel to Arizona.

“It seems like every time we’re on one of these calls, somebody brings up something else and it’s like ‘Wow, I never thought of that,’ ” Krystkowiak said. “Things are in motion and it’s really been organic all along, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some crazy stuff happening with our schedules.

“Regionally, maybe it makes sense because we can control our own destiny and potentially charter to those schools, not be on a commercial plane. Maybe this is a time where we can get out in front of things.”


Nov. 10: vs. Utah Valley

Nov. 13: at Missouri

Nov. 17: vs. Cal Poly

Nov. 20: vs. Cal State Fullerton

Nov. 25-27: Battle 4 Atlantis

Dec. 3: vs. Washington

Dec. 6: at Arizona State

Dec. 12: at BYU

Dec. 19: vs. Fresno State

Dec. 22: vs. Rice