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Utah-UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl canceled, due to COVID-19; Utes report 17 positive cases

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham looks on before the start of their NCAA college football game against Colorado in Salt Lake City, Nov. 30, 2019.

The University of Utah athletic department has done everything in its power to get football and basketball played in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As this week unfolded, Utes athletic director Mark Harlan and his staff did even more on the football end of things.

Instead of just daily antigen testing and weekly PCR testing, football players began undergoing daily PCR testing this week in the wake of the Nov. 7 season opener vs. Arizona getting canceled.

In the end, it still wasn’t enough. Citing Utah’s inability to meet the Pac-12′s mandated 53-player threshold to play a game, the league canceled Saturday evening’s contest between the Utes and UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Furthermore, Harlan later revealed that men’s basketball activities are paused after Friday’s round of antigen testing yielded some positives. PCR tests were administered to confirm the antigen results, but those results were not expected until Saturday.

“Obviously, a terribly disappointing day here for the University of Utah athletic department, and certainly for our football program,” Harlan said on a Zoom call with reporters Friday afternoon. “Coach [Kyle] Whittingham and I spoke throughout this process frequently, and he was on board with what needed to happen. He, like me, cares most about our guys' safety.”

After the Arizona game was canceled, there was little transparency in terms of when things happened, or how many members of the football program may have been affected. That all changed on Friday.

The athletic department said in a statement on Friday that there are 17 confirmed positive cases among Utah football players, coaches and staff, plus another 11 program members in quarantine due to contact-tracing protocols. The majority of those positives date back to an outbreak last week.

After the football program was shut down last Saturday and Sunday in the wake of the Arizona cancelation, there were a few positives early in the week, followed by none on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, per Harlan.

On Friday, mere hours before Utah’s traveling party was to get on a Los Angeles-bound charter, one member of the program tested positive. After that positive and the ensuing contact tracing, it was determined the Utes could not move forward and play.

“I still think there’s a lot to play for,” Harlan said. “There’s a USC team coming in next week and we’re going to do everything we can to turn things around. We’ve got games after that. We don’t know how many games are going to be played in our conference. We’re rooting for everyone to play every week, believe me. I still believe as I sit here today that there’s a lot to play for, we just have to get this virus out of our program to be able to participate.”

Utah, one source told The Salt Lake Tribune, will not practice Saturday or Sunday, but will continue to test on both days. Based on testing the next two days, Harlan said decisions about the impending USC game week will be made on Sunday.

As an added insult to injury for Utah, UCLA turned right around and quickly scheduled Cal, which had its game with Arizona State canceled Friday, for Sunday morning at the Rose Bowl. That matchup is slated for a 10 a.m. MT kickoff and will air on Fox Sports 1.

On the basketball side of things, when there is a positive test, NCAA guidelines suggest but do not mandate that a program shut down activity for 14 days. With Larry Krystkowiak’s program shutting down Friday, the 14th day would be Nov. 27, which means activity can start back up Nov. 28.

The Tribune reported earlier this week that the Utes were finalizing a deal to open against Dixie State on Nov. 25. Krystkowiak said the next day on 700 AM to expect games at the Huntsman Center on Nov. 25 and 27, but declined to name an opponent as the contracts were still unsigned.

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