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Red All Over: Nearly one year later, memories of COVID-19 shutting down the Pac-12, and everything else.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered college sports, and things still aren’t back to normal

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Utes host the USC Trojans, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

With the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 shutting sports down upon us, I’m starting to cobble together memories from various folks at the University of Utah for a story that is still a couple of weeks away.

As I embark on this, I find myself thinking back to a year ago, and how surreal the whole situation was at the time.

For starters, I remember walking through Oakland International Airport on March 1, ready to head home from covering the men’s basketball team in the Bay Area. Walking through the terminal, I saw more than one person wearing a mask, which I thought was overkill.

I remember sitting in the South Point sportsbook in Las Vegas on the night of March 10, the eve of the Pac-12 tournament, watching Syracuse and North Carolina play in the ACC tournament. Everything felt normal.

I remember March 11, Utah lost to Oregon State in the first game of the day, but I hung around T-Mobile Arena to take in the rest of the first round. Rudy Gobert tested positive in Oklahoma City that night, the NBA season was immediately halted. Oh, and all of the Jazz beat writers, including Tribune colleague Andy Larsen, were in OKC. That was weird, awkward, and scary to watch that unfold on social media.

I remember going back to South Point that night, morbidly looking forward to checking out an Oregon-Oregon State Pac-12 quarterfinal in an empty T-Mobile Arena the next afternoon, followed by making a cameo at the WAC tournament to cover Utah Valley. It’s 11 p.m., I’m decompressing at a casino-floor bar, my phone rings.

My boss is on the other end telling me to wake up the next morning and get home. Be safe, no need to go to the WAC tournament, just go home and we’ll figure this whole thing out.

The next morning, I do an ESPN700 radio spot, followed by a pair of phone interviews with Francis Bernard and Jaylon Johnson for NFL draft-related stuff I was working on. In the middle of all that, conference tournaments are getting canceled left and right, everything is coming to a halt.

I remember getting in my rental car in the South Point parking garage, settling in for the six-hour ride home to Salt Lake City.

Very early in the trek up I-15 North, Utah, in accordance with the Pac-12 having already canceled all athletics competitions, canceled all athletics events. I remember thinking, I don’t know what’s happening, but it’ll get figured out and we’ll be back to business soon enough.

Nearly a year later, boy, was I wrong.

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