Under normal conditions for the University of Utah football program, fall camp would open in late July or early August, and that is all anyone would have to worry about.
The start of fall classes would still be weeks away, so days are completely dedicated to football. Practice, meetings and weight training are among the various activities going on from early in the morning until late at night.
The Utes will open training camp on Friday in advance of a seven-game season beginning Nov. 7 vs. Arizona, but just like most everything else these days, camp will not look like it normally does.
There will be no all-day sessions at the Eccles Football Center, mostly because school has been ongoing on the Salt Lake City campus since Aug. 24.
“Right now, we’re in school, so it’s going to be more of a glorified in-season routine where we practice and meet in the afternoons, where we really only have them from 2-6 p.m,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said last week on a Zoom call with reporters. “Whereas regular fall camp, the day is completely dedicated to football.”
Fall camp might not look like it normally does, but that could be mitigated by the fact Utah is ahead of where it would normally be leading up to the start of it.
College football programs are normally allowed to spend up to eight hours per week on athletic activities in the offseason. On Aug. 19, the NCAA Division I Council approved a 12-hours-per-week practice schedule for teams affected at the time by the COVID-19 pandemic, namely from the Pac-12, Big Ten, Mountain West and MAC. Within the 12-hour window, the NCAA allowed five hours per week of on-field activities with a football and helmet, but no contact.
The Pac-12 announced Sept. 24 that it was pressing forward with a seven-game schedule. The next day on a Zoom call, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan confirmed the football team had been working within the NCAA’s 12-hour window.
Utah has been working out in some form since student-athletes began flowing back to campus on a voluntary basis in mid-June. That is viewed as a significant benefit when compared to the four California schools, which were under strict local and state health ordinances and did not have the benefit of a traditional offseason program.
“We have far exceeded that, so we are way ahead, at least mentally right now, going into this fall camp than we would’ve been for a typical summer going into a typical fall, so it’s give and take a little bit,” Whittingham said.
As camp sets to open late this week, the tricky part now is re-introducing contact, something Utah has had none of since the Alamo Bowl, save for the third and final spring practice on March 5, which was conducted in helmets and shells, but not full pads.
Under NCAA rules, the first two camp practices can include helmets, but not pads. The third and fourth practices can introduce shells, with full pads, and presumably full contact, coming in the fifth practice.
Speaking Friday morning on ESPN700, Whittingham’s understanding was that the NCAA was deliberating whether or not it would allow teams to go to full pads right away. Given Utah has been working out for several months already, it could, in theory, go to full pads immediately, but the NCAA allowing it remains to be seen.
Either way, Whittingham said last week his hope is to get two full scrimmages during camp. One would be three weeks from the opener, Oct. 17, the other two weeks from the opener, Oct. 24.
“We’ve had a lot of time in meetings to install things, but installing in a meeting and getting them out on the field and repped are two different things,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t give them too much. You have to be smart with your gameplans and not overload them, but I think that we’ve done as good a job as we can to this point.”