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The University of Utah football team’s travel plans changed when the UCLA game at the Rose Bowl was moved from Nov. 13 to Nov. 14, but mine didn’t for the most part.
A quick Slack message to my boss, and it was decided that I would keep a flight to Burbank on the morning of Nov. 13, cover the game the next night, then change the return flight to Sunday. No problem, traveling to a game site the day before the game is common practice.
The morning of Nov. 13, I get through security at Salt Lake City Airport, and my phone starts buzzing. There is renewed doubt that Utah-UCLA will get played. Again, I am already through security, so this is happening. I ask around, I ask around, I fire off a text message to one source, another to the media contact at the Pasadena Department of Health. As I buckle my seatbelt on the plane, there is nothing firm that this game will not get played.
Ninety minutes later, the Burbank-bound plane is low enough in the air that cell service comes back, my phone lights up like a Christmas tree. Utah had one positive test that morning, game is cancelled.
Tarmac, phone call to the boss, phone call to Utah athletic communications. There’s going to be a Zoom call with Utes athletic director Mark Harlan, which they were nice enough to delay a bit for me so I can get myself together.
Off the plane, through the terminal, endless walk to the rental car center, speed down I-5 in my Dodge Challenger, hotel, made the Harlan Zoom call with time to spare.
Write, write, hop on John Canzano’s radio show in Oregon to talk about it, transcribe quotes for Saturday morning follow-up story.
*Deep breath, crack open a Modern Times Orderville IPA, because Southern California*
Note to self: Do not make travel arrangements for Utah-Arizona State on Nov. 28 in Tempe without having more clarity on the Sun Devils’ COVID-19 situation, which has been a profound mess for most of the last two weeks.
We’re all going to laugh about 2020 one day, right?
What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise
• The Utah men’s basketball team has four nonconference games, all of which have been reported by The Salt Lake Tribune. I am working under the assumption the Utes will open Nov. 27 at the Huntsman Center vs. the University of New Orleans, but an official schedule has not been released. There could be a fifth nonconference game coming, but that is unconfirmed. Moving on.
• The Big Ten released its men’s basketball schedule on Wednesday afternoon, with four games taking place on Christmas. That’s right, Christmas. Not only that, but none of the four matchups, Wisconsin at Michigan State, Iowa at Minnesota, Michigan at Nebraska, and Michigan at Purdue, are exactly around the block for the visitor. That idea feels profoundly dumb. One working theory is that, since the players aren’t going home for Christmas this year anyway because of the pandemic, might as well play? Either way, dumb.
• As the COVID-19 situation in the state of South Dakota continues to deteriorate, the Utah basketball team’s decision to remove itself from the Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls continues to look smart. It’s not just Utah smartening up, but rather half the original field has bailed out, leaving the event to scramble to fill the holes. Speaking of which….
• Utah State, back-to-back Mountain West Tournament winner and expected to compete at the top of the league again, is one of the replacement teams going to South Dakota. Interesting move there, with one team from the state of Utah opting out of the event, but another team from the state of Utah opting in. Through Wednesday, South Dakota’s positive-test rate is 20% and the state is averaging 161.1 new cases per 100,000. Even with Sanford Health running the testing for the three-day, eight-team tournament, it doesn’t seem worth it. Speaking of Utah State….
• As the NBA Draft played out Wednesday evening, former Aggies star Sam Merrill stayed on the board longer than projected, but we later found out why. The Milwaukee Bucks took Merrill with the 60th and final pick, then immediately came together on a two-year deal with one-and-a-half years with $1.4 million guaranteed, according to The Athletic. The immediacy of that agreement indicates it was in the works behind the scenes during the second round, with Merrill’s agent likely saying thanks, but no thanks to any number of teams that were looking to draft him in the 40s or 50s. Good for Merrill getting that amount of guaranteed money as a second-round pick and for landing in a spot with good organizational culture. He can help the Bucks immediately.
• If you’ve read through this entire section and can’t tell yet, college basketball is coming, the NBA is coming, and this section is going to start having a heavy basketball presence. I apologize for nothing. Hop in, or hop out. Your call.
Q: “Just your gut feeling on this one: If ASU isn’t ready to go next week, and no other Pac-12 team is available, how likely is the conference to allow Utah to hang a 10th straight loss on BYU?” — @Jazzmanstv
A: This question was submitted to me on Tuesday morning, but some stuff has happened since then.
Jon Wilner of The Mercury News reported Wednesday morning that Pac-12 athletic directors are considering allowing teams affected by COVID-19 cancellations to schedule nonconference games. Lots of media members, not including me, absolutely lost their minds and assumed that if Arizona State cannot play Utah on Nov. 28, the Utes would be free to schedule BYU, which is off that Saturday.
First of all, this issue would have to go before the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors for approval. Second, even if it is approved, even if Utah and BYU move to schedule each other, BYU is going to have to adhere to Pac-12 testing protocols, which remains to be seen.
Would the conference allow this game, or any Pac-12 team to play BYU for that matter? In a vacuum, yes, but there are hurdles. Furthermore, BYU is absolutely in contention for an at-large bid to a New Year’s Six bowl, and may very well get there simply by beating North Alabama and San Diego State to finish 10-0.
The rivalry aside, it makes no sense to me for BYU to schedule Utah or any other Pac-12 team. If you lose that game, you’re not going to get to the NY6 and you’re relegated to whatever pre-New Year’s bowl that will be forgotten about shortly after it’s played.
Holy War, nine in a row, blah, blah, blah. BYU should not schedule Utah, or any other Pac-12 team. even if the league allows it.
Q: “If the CFP decides to move things back (especially now that their beloved SEC wants to make up some games), do you think the Pac-12 would put additional games on the schedule, playing through the holidays and into January? Isn’t it all about getting in as many games as possible to recoup money at this point (I mean that is why they’re trying to play football in a pandemic isn’t it?)?” — Charles Bangerter
A: If, big if, the CFP decides to move things back because, quite honestly, the Rose Bowl, which is a CFP semifinal this season, doesn’t exactly have a history of being flexible, but I digress.
Interesting premise raised here, but I lean towards, yes, if the CFP decides to move everything back, lengthening the college football calendar, I could see the Pac-12 adding games, backing up the conference championship game and trying to rake in some more revenue.
Logistically, that sort of undertaking feels like a nightmare, but as we have seen in recent weeks, scheduling new matchups can happen very quickly. When Utah-UCLA was cancelled, UCLA hooked up with Cal for a Sunday morning game at the Rose Bowl in a matter of hours, so yes, what you propose is certainly doable.
Q: “What are the top-3, most-contentious rivalries you’ve covered.” — @dtosborn11
A: In terms of stuff I’ve been a part of as a writer, Rutgers-Seton Hall basketball is No. 1. The game always delivers, the buildup is generally very good, and there is a history of all sorts of calamities and hijinks connected to the rivalry.
Off the beaten path, but Iona-Manhattan basketball. I covered Monmouth University and the MAAC from 2013-18, and for a lot of that time, these were the two-best teams in the league, separated by only eight miles. The coaches, Iona’s Tim Cluess and Manhattan’s Steve Masiello, were both New York-centric, media-savvy characters, so that played well. For a good while, just like Rutgers-Seton Hall, Iona-Manhattan always delivered.
I really had to think about the third one. It hasn’t been much of a rivalry, but for a hot minute, Rutgers-Penn State football had some real juice. When Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014, the league wisely sent Penn State there for the Scarlet Knights’ first football game as a member and put it in primetime. The buildup was phenomenal, trash talking on both sides through the media, and a pretty good game, 13-10, Nittany Lions. Had Rutgers won the 2014 game, maybe it becomes a real rivalry, but it’s been one-sided ever since.
Q: “If they don’t play this week is that the end for this year.” — @DalanSellers
A: Unless the Utah football program has a dire outbreak, equal to or even larger than the one that cost it two games, the answer is no.
Utes athletic director Mark Harlan has made clear that as long as medical professionals continue to deem things safe to play football, the Utes will continue to work each week towards playing on Saturdays.
Is it silly to potentially play a two-game or three-game season if the Utes have another outbreak? Maybe, but who’s to really say what’s right and what’s wrong right now? Everything is weird, everything is unorthodox, nothing should surprise anymore.
And, well, as noted in the first question above, there is a hefty financial component attached to each football game Utah is able to play. Don’t discount the money end of things here, even if it hasn’t been talked a lot about lately.”
• As noted above, I was at Salt Lake City Airport last weekend, and it’s really very nice now post-construction. It has the feel of a major travel hub, which was not the case pre-construction.
• Staying with the airport, in my mind, I had envisioned it for some reason as a place where everyone would be doing the right thing COVID-wise, and boy, was I wrong. Yes, the vast majority had masks on in the terminal, but plenty didn’t, and social distancing was not really a thing. Although, I am happy to report that on my two flights, everyone wore their mask, behaved, and there were no fist-fights going viral, so there’s that.
• Real Housewives of Salt Lake City: I might be out, can’t decide. It’s following the RHO template of pseudo, manufactured drama, but I don’t find this group of women particularly compelling, or Real Housewives-y enough. I’ve watched the first two, I’ll probably give it two more before making a decision.
• The weather here continues to not be able to make up its mind. I can’t function properly when it’s 71 degrees in the morning, and 38 degrees by lunch. Can’t have it. Pick one already.