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Will Utah Runnin’ Utes be able to play a full 27-game season? COVID-19 will help dictate what happens.

(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics) Utes men's basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak

The question to Larry Krystkowiak centered around this college basketball season and whether or not it is reasonable to believe that the University of Utah would be able to get in a full 27-game season.

Knowing what the COVID-19 situation looks like across the state of Utah, and really the entire country right now, the Utes head coach let out a little chuckle. He danced around the question some, then painted himself as the eternal optimist.

Krystkowiak, though, knew the answer and eventually, he got there. He knows positive cases are spiking in the state, he knows the positive-test percentage is too high. He knows the state’s collective response to the pandemic has not been good enough through the summer and the fall, so what reason does he have to believe the response will be good enough as the weather turns colder?

“So, probably not to answer your question,” Krystkowiak said on a Zoom call with reporters late last week. “I’m hopeful, but I would think, whether it’s something that goes haywire with our squad or potentially with one of our opponents, there’s probably going to be a few makeup games and curveballs that are thrown at us that we’re going to have to adjust to.”
College basketball practice has been ongoing across the country since Oct. 14. Since then, the men’s and women’s teams at Marquette have had to shut down practice for two weeks after multiple positive tests. The Toledo men’s team also shut down for two weeks after six players tested positive. Cal on Tuesday morning announced its men’s basketball team will pause for two weeks after a regularly-scheduled PCR test came back negative.

The two-week shutdown is an NCAA recommendation, but a stoppage of that length may act as a potentially-major deterrent for a lot of schools towards getting a legitimate season played.

Released on Oct. 12, the NCAA’s Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Basketball differentiate Tiers 1, 2, and 3 of individuals connected to a respective program. Tier 1 consists of the highest-exposure individuals, a group that includes the players, coaches and medical personnel.

If a Tier 1 individual tests positive for COVID-19, the NCAA recommendation is that all Tier 1 individuals inside the program quarantine for a period of 14 days, not just the infected Tier 1 individual.

A positive test at this point inside Krystkowiak’s program and the accompanying 14-day quarantine would be detrimental in terms of preparations this close to the season. The Utes are slated to open the season Nov. 25 vs. potential top-10 outfit Creighton as part of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Despite cases spiking statewide, there has been no indication of major COVID-19 trouble for the two basketball teams or the football team at Utah, which, like the rest of the Pac-12, has rapid-result, daily-antigen testing capabilities.

“Our university’s done a great job of keeping the COVID numbers down, but we aren’t dazzling anybody from a statewide perspective,” Krystkowiak said. “We can’t stay on campus, nor can we have all our players stay on campus 24/7 to ensure they’re going to be safe.”

As the chaotic subculture of college basketball scheduling in the middle of a pandemic has entered the spotlight in the weeks leading up to the start of the season, Monday offered a reminder that getting a full season played is going to be hard.

Off the NBA’s success in pulling off the Orlando Bubble, ESPN abandoned plans to take eight early-season events from around the country and move them to Orlando during the early days and weeks of the season. According to The Athletic, the hang up on getting everyone in Orlando centered around testing protocols.

Testing protocols at the Crossover Classic have been somewhat vague, but a Pac-12 source told the Salt Lake Tribune they will mirror Pac-12 capabilities, which are daily.

“We really have to be cognizant,” Krystkowiak said. “You’ve seen other teams shut down around the country that were taking care of business, wearing masks, washing, distancing and making sure who it is we’re around. Those are going to be things that we can control that are probably far-more important than who we’re going to play later on in the season.”

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