As of Sunday evening, the University of Utah football program appeared to have its COVID-19 outbreak under control, so it is moving forward to finally play a game this weekend.
After its season-opener vs. Arizona was cancelled due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests and ensuing contact tracing, the athletic department on Sunday evening reported no positive tests on Saturday or Sunday. In turn, the Utes expect to resume practice Monday afternoon, while their game at UCLA has been moved from Friday night to Saturday night at the Rose Bowl (FOX, 8:30 p.m. MST).
The move to Saturday night does a few things. Most importantly, the extra day presumably gives Utah more time to deal with any and all COVID-19 protocols in order to travel and play safely. Furthermore, with the Friday night game originally slated for Fox Sports 1, the FOX broadcast designation gives the Utes a wider audience. Utah-UCLA is now the back end of a Pac-12 triple-header on FOX that includes USC-Arizona at 1:30 p.m. and Oregon-Washington State at 5 p.m.
“After two consecutive days of no positive COVID-19 test results, we are encouraged that we can resume practice on Monday in preparation for this week’s game at UCLA,” Utes athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “We continue to rigorously reinforce all health and safety protocols related to the virus throughout our department.”
Sunday brought good news, but a bevy of questions remain as Utah begins moving forward with an eye on Saturday.
It remains unclear how many players tested positive and how many were or remain under contact-tracing protocols. Sunday’s news release indicated that positive tests had stretched all the way to the staff, but which staff members, or at least how many, also remains unknown.
At Utah’s request, the Pac-12 on Friday afternoon canceled the Utes' season-opening game vs. Arizona, which had been scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah reported multiple positive tests Friday morning. Between the positives and the ensuing contact tracing, the football program could not meet the 53-player minimum threshold set by the Pac-12 to play the game. Within the 53, a team must have one quarterback, four defensive linemen and seven offensive linemen.
Harlan took to Twitter Saturday evening to provide an update, saying the football program had “good testing results” on Saturday, with more testing planned for Sunday.
“While we are encouraged by all indicators today that our football program may proceed with preparations for this week’s game, we also recognize the challenges presented by the virus and that our status could change as we continue our daily testing program,” Harlan said Sunday, making it a point to thank UCLA and the Pac-12 for their flexibility. “We will continue to be guided by our medical professionals in all of our decisions and prioritize the well-being and safety of our student-athletes, as I have said from the beginning of the pandemic.”
Utah-Arizona was joined by Cal-Washington as Pac-12 games called off due to COVID-19. On Wednesday, the Golden Bears announced that one player had tested positive, while a host of others fell under contact-tracing protocols. By Thursday afternoon, their season-opening matchup with Washington on Saturday night was cancelled.
The remaining four Pac-12 openers on Saturday went off with few, if any hitches, headlined by USC’s 28-27 come-from-behind win over Arizona State in a critical South Division matchup.