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Gordon Monson: Utah football should be more transparent in a pandemic

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah's new Athletic Direct, Mark Harlan, talks to reporters after a news conference at the Rice-Eccles Stadium, Monday, June 4, 2018.

There’s too much mystery around the cancellation of Utah’s football game with Arizona on Saturday. Not enough sunlight.

It’s one thing for football fans of a public university to face the disappointment of not seeing their team play — granted, a minor item on a list of much more important ones with a pandemic in play — but it’s another for nobody outside the program to know what the hell really was and is going on.

It was Utah’s athletic director Mark Harlan who said specifics of the COVID-19-related cancellation would not be revealed and if anyone had a problem with that policy, they should blame him.

“That’s me. I’ll own that decision,” Harlan said on July 31, adding “I just don’t believe our student-athletes should be singled out in the population for positives and negatives, and we’ve rolled in that direction.”

OK, Mark, consider yourself blamed.

People would like to know, deserve to know, what’s happening around that public university’s football program, especially as it pertains to COVID, a virus that not only is plaguing Utah football, but an entire state, and not just an entire state, but an entire country, and not just an entire country, but an entire world.

Why the secrecy?

Would it violate HIPPA laws for the school to give not names of individuals, but the total number of those infected, the total of those who tested positive, the number who were around those who tested positive, exactly when the infected tested positive, who will now be quarantined/isolated and for how long, and who knew what when?

That seems reasonable enough.

From solely a sports perspective, there are more than enough questions already. If the Pac-12 waited all this time to get its season started, including Utah, what’s it mean that the Utes can’t even get off the ground in Week One? Will this now adversely affect the status of their next scheduled game against UCLA? And if it does, what’s that mean for the remainder of a conferenceseason that could now be down to … what, four games? What happens if this whole scenario repeats itself again? Will one or two more games be lost?

Some of those questions might have answers, some not yet, and if they don’t, maybe Harlan and others wouldn’t want anyone to get them, not at this juncture.

Everyone has to admit this is most discouraging. A lot of people applauded when the Pac-12 said it would kick-start its season, albeit later than almost every other conference, with the availability of regular, daily testing.

That was the good news. The bad … what if those tests are positive?

Nobody should care precisely who among the Utes got COVID, the virus is nondiscriminatory regarding who it infects. This isn’t about embarrassment or blame. It isn’t about pointing fingers. Let a sanctioned individual, one charged with keeping an eye on and tracking the players, one on the inside do that. Some of those infected could have been doing, could be doing everything right and still get the virus.

How they got it is a different matter. And who may be affected is imminently important.

It’s obvious that Utah can’t play football if, say, its offensive line is missing, or its defensive backfield, or its quarterbacks, or its receivers.

In a statement issued by Kyle Whittingham, a coach who must be deeply disappointed at ramping up to this moment, altered and battered though it might have been, and then discovering that his team can’t go, he said:

“As difficult as this is, there is no question this is the right decision to make. Our student-athletes' health and well-being is absolutely paramount and we will not put them at risk. Our team has worked extremely hard to get to this point, and we will continue to care for our student-athletes and follow all protocols very thoroughly as we prepare for next week’s game.”

Again, will there be next week’s game?

What’s going on? How severe is it? How widespread? How many are affected?

Nobody’s saying.

And that’s dumb.

Harlan, in his statement, mentioned that Utah’s positive cases “put our team below the Pac-12′s minimum threshold of 53 available scholarship student-athletes, under the league’s game cancellation policy.”

He properly added that going ahead and playing Saturday’s game would have put players at risk … “and we simply will not take that risk.”

Good. Good. Good.

This is a complicated issue that must be handled carefully, responsibly. And it sounds as though that’s exactly what the school is doing.

But it also should be treated with more transparency. Utahns care about their university, they care about its football program, they care — at least some of them, and hopefully now more of them, all of them — about a virus that is ravaging so many lives, far beyond sports, but certainly in and around sports, too.

What did the American jurist so famously say?

Oh, yeah.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.

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