Utah Utes mailbag: Should Utah add — or cut — any sports programs?

Plus: Utah’s national champion climbing team, where will Both Gach end up, and more

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The student section calls third down as the University of Utah hosts the Colorado Buffaloes in Pac-12 football, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The University of Utah sponsors 19 intercollegiate athletics programs, which is a lot, but not as many as a lot of other major college athletic departments.

Should the school add more programs? Should it consider cutting sports as some Division I schools have done in recent years? We’re going to start this week’s mailbag right there.

Do you have a question for Utes beat reporter Josh Newman? Send it to him via a tweet, direct message him on Twitter, email him at jnewman@sltrib.com, or leave it in the comments section at the end of this article and he will answer them in his weekly mailbag.

Q: “What is a sport that Utah currently doesn’t have that they would be smart to add? What sport should they consider cutting?” - @coreyc04

A: Let’s start with the second question.

I can remember at least two times during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, from the start of it in March through mid-August 2020, when Utes athletic director Mark Harlan conducted an extensive Zoom call with the media, fielding all sorts of questions.

With sports canceled, furloughs and layoffs instituted inside his department, and a fiscal budget deficit imminent, Harlan was asked about the possibility of eliminating sports to help cut costs. At the time, he was pretty adamant that there was no appetite for such a thing. If Utah survived the pandemic without cutting any sports, I find it hard to believe that such a thing is coming down the pike now. This athletic department sponsors 19 intercollegiate programs. It’s tough to envision that number getting lower, especially with new, bigger media rights revenue on the horizon.

As for the first question, I don’t know that Utah would be smart to add a sport, but it only sponsors eight men’s programs vs. 11 for the women, so if it were to add, I would think it would be on the men’s side. That said, what men’s sport would make sense? Soccer, where San Diego State is a Pac-12 affiliate member? Track and field? Rowing? Wrestling, where Cal Poly, Cal State Bakersfield and Little Rock are affiliate members?

Personally, selfishly, I would like to write more about track and field.

What am I missing that men’s volleyball is not sponsored by the Pac-12?

Q: “Did you know Utah won a national championship in Climbing?” - @MacSporkTwo

A: I did not know that until Monday morning when @SickosCommittee, a college football fan account, continued the yeoman’s work by posting a graphic with a list of 40 non-NCAA national champions. For example, did you know Georgia Tech won a national title in drone racing, or that Nebraska won the natty in something called broomball? I’ll bet you didn’t.

So yeah, Utah was part of the graphic because it won a national championship in climbing. A quick Google search of “national collegiate climbing championship” gave us the 2022 USA Climbing Collegiate National Championship in Bridgeport, Pa., which is about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia.

If I read the results correctly, Utah actually dominated this event from April 21-24, winning the Boulder, Lead/TR, and Speed competitions. I do not understand how the scoring works, and I cannot read the results well enough to explain them, but I promise, Utah ran roughshod.

Q: “Utah has the longest streak for seasons with a pick-six. Who keeps that streak alive this year? What game does it happen in?”

A: Utah has a pick-six in each of the last 18 seasons, which feels pretty ridiculous.

Clark Phillips III has Utah’s last two pick-six returns, one in each of the last two seasons, with both coming against Washington State. Predicting the third-year sophomore to come up with the Utes’ next pick-six makes sense, but it’s also boring, so let’s go elsewhere.

JT Broughton was really good for Utah during the COVID-shortened 2020 season on his way to All-Pac-12 honors, but was lost for the 2021 season in September at BYU to a shoulder injury. Broughton was healthy and given a full green light from spring practice. Kyle Whittingham had positive things to say about his progress.

There’s not going to be a pick-six at Florida, so let’s pencil one in for Sept. 10 vs. Southern Utah.

I hate questions like this. What’s next?

Q: “Where do you think Both Gach winds up going?” - @BlakeGoldman6

A: I’ve gotten this a few times in the last week, probably a byproduct of the NBA Draft having just taken place.

For the unaware, Gach retained Aaron Turner as his agent and, as expected, is not transferring for a third time, but rather embarking on a professional career. Not for nothing, I went into last season assuming Utah was getting one season out of Gach, I would have been quite surprised if he stuck around for a second.

I have not found an NBA scout or personnel guy who believes Gach is an NBA player, especially as a defender. To say Gach is not a willing defender is putting it lightly. Depending on who you choose to trust, there is some belief that Gach can get his foot in the door in the G-League, but I’m not buying that at all. Far superior players with better skill sets won’t make it out of G-League training camps this fall.

Gach is going to begin his professional career abroad, it’s just a matter of where and for how much. I follow the international stuff, but I’m far from an expert on where and how guys land their first contracts. Turner isn’t exactly new at this, which is to Gach’s advantage.

Q: “As a sportswriter, you’ve been to plenty of places. What makes a city a “great sports town”? Is it the teams in town? Is it the sports bars? Is it just the general fandom? For example, every gas station has a poster of the local team up, restaurants always have the local team’s game on, etc. What does a city need to be a good sports town?” - @billyhesterman

A: Good question.

First of all, sports bars have nothing to do with it. There are sports-centric establishments in every town, every major city in this country. Most of them are very, very similar, almost none of them are special. Shouts to The Green Pig Pub, though. Solid spot for an NFL Sunday, but I digress.

A great sports town has history, which yields generational fandom, collective memories, both good and bad, and hope. The hope part will get you. Hope will keep you coming back year after year, season after season, regardless of the sport.

Memories, man. Good and bad. Every New York Jets fan of a certain age remembers Week 17 in ‘97, getting to the doorstep of a Super Bowl in ‘98, Vinny Testeverde blowing out his achilles in the ‘99 opener, Week 17 in ‘00 in Baltimore (GRRR!!!!), John Hall in Week 17 of ‘01 to go to the playoffs, 41-0 over Peyton Manning in the ‘02 Wild Card Game at the Meadowlands after winning the AFC East, and on, and on through the years.

A great sports town is one where fans care, which offers an element of civic pride. If there’s a playoff run in one of the four major sports, the town is polarized for the duration of the run. It’s leading the local news, it’s on A1 of the newspaper, it’s everywhere.

Great sports towns, off the top of my head: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Denver.

Transient cities are generally bad sports towns. For example, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Miami.

Yeah, that’s right, LA. Angelenos are in on the Dodgers, the Lakers, and they can’t show up on time for either.

Q: “You’ve got one series to binge in the month of July that you’ve never seen before. What is your top option?” - @RunninHoops

A: Before I answer this, if you’re looking for a quick binge, I recommend The Bear, an eight-episode dark-ish comedy series that debuted late last week on Hulu to some big reviews. Great story, great casting, stick around to the very end. You can knock it out during a lazy afternoon.

I definitely do not have the entire month of July to binge something I’ve never seen, but if I did, I really want to start watching Better Call Saul.

I was comically late to Breaking Bad, which, for me, is close but not quite on par with The Sopranos. Now, I am comically late to Better Call Saul, which some Breaking Bad fans tell me is better, so yeah, one of these days, I’m going to have to finally start watching it.

Other shows I’ve never seen that I want to binge: Mad Men, Fargo, Succession.

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