The COVID-19 outbreak inside the University of Utah football program is bad, if not worse than most outsiders may have assumed.
In the wake of a rash of infections, plus the ensuing contact-tracing protocols, the Utes' season opener vs. Arizona was canceled and declared a no-contest. The athletic department announced Sunday that the football team had “two consecutive days of no positive COVID-19 test results.” Practice was set to resume Monday afternoon, and Friday night’s game at UCLA has been moved to Saturday night (8:30 p.m., FOX).
Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media via Zoom on Monday, at which time, he gave some details on the severity of what’s happening inside the Eccles Football Center.
At the top of the list, Whittingham indicated that at some point a player was hospitalized.
“We’ve had some players that have become very sick, almost in the hospital,” Whittingham said. “It’s there, and like you said, I am not a medical expert. I don’t want to try to expound on something I don’t know much about other than what has impacted us. We had one player that had a tough go of it.”
Seeking to clarify what Whittingham said, a Utah athletic department spokesman later provided a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, As it turns out, yes, the Utes have had a player admitted to a hospital.
“One student-athlete who has not been participating with the football program since August recently tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized,” the statement read. “He has since been released from the hospital. He is at home and is doing much better. Throughout this time, he has been receiving full care from the medical team.”
Utah-Arizona was canceled, in part, because the Utes were unable to hit the 53-scholarship player threshold set by the Pac 12 to play a game. Within that 53, a team must have one quarterback, four defensive linemen and seven offensive linemen. The positive tests were spread through the roster, said Whittingham, who then offered that position groups in particular “were decimated, more so than any others.”
Whittingham did not elaborate as to which position groups were hit the hardest.
Utah may have had no positive tests on Saturday and Sunday, but there remain an unreleased number of positive cases and other players are still in quarantine for being in close contact with a teammate who has the virus. Still, the Utes are pressing forward in an attempt to begin what has become a five-game regular season Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
The Utes merely getting on the airplane to Los Angeles might be a tall task. Whittingham indicated Utah is barely on the plus side of the 53-player threshold. The reasonable assumption is that another rash of positive tests this week would make playing at UCLA impossible.
What the roster might look like on Saturday is also anyone’s guess, but scout-team members are now getting two-deep reps in practice, while walk-ons are also getting reps in preparation to potentially play.
“Some of these guys haven’t taken really any reps since camp started, since we’ve broken into scout teams, which was after the first week of camp,” Whittingham said. "We’ve got a bunch of guys that are now going to be counted on to help us win, so that’s where we’re at.
“We are doing our best to be able to play the game.”
Utah-USC set for 8:30 p.m. kickoff, ESPN broadcast
The Pac-12 on Monday morning announced kickoff times and TV designations for its Nov,. 20-21 games, with Utah’s Nov. 21 home game vs. USC set for an 8:30 p.m. kickoff and an ESPN broadcast.
With Utah having five regular-season games scheduled , kickoff times for three of them are now known, and all three are night starts. Aside from 8:30 kickoffs against UCLA and USC, the Utes will play at Colorado on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Games at Arizona State on Nov. 28 and vs. Oregon State on Dec. 5 will get kickoff times and TV designations in the coming weeks.