The TribUte newsletter: Utah AD ‘furious’ at Pitt coach’s recruit tampering accusation

Plus: The Runnin’ Utes at Vivint Arena, and a key defensive player will return for the football team

(Lynne Sladky | AP) Pittsburgh head coach Past Narduzzi watches the first half of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi used part of his National Signing Day press conference on Wednesday to accuse the University of Utah of tampering with a recruit who had been verbally committed to the Panthers, but later flipped to the Utes.

Narduzzi’s accusation centered on three-star wide receiver Daidren Zipperer, who committed to the Panthers on Sept. 24 and visited Utah a week later. Zipperer de-committed from Pitt on Oct. 24, then committed to the Utes on Halloween.

“Shoot, I’ll just say it,” Narduzzi said. “We lost one to Utah that was a good receiver for us and I think [NIL] had something to do with it.”

As Narduzzi offered that quote, he did not say “NIL,” but he rubbed his thumb against his index and middle fingers as he spoke, implying that money was the motivating factor for Zipperer’s flip to Utah.

None of this got past Mark Harlan.

During a wide-ranging interview with The Salt Lake Tribune this week, the Utah athletic director was asked about the perception from some fans that NIL collectives connected to the Utes are not spending enough to compete with other programs.

As he has many times publicly, Harlan defended Utah’s usage of name, image and likeness opportunities. He is privy to the NIL contracts that roll in, and he believes his athletic department is acting prudently, responsibly and, frankly, fruitfully. Harlan also recognizes that until the NCAA decides to enforce inducement, it is going to be difficult to police things and have schools and collectives operate as NIL was intended, which is not, in part, pay-for-play.

At that point, having already vented some frustration about the perceived Wild West NIL has turned into in some spots, Harlan, unprovoked, addressed Narduzzi’s accusations, while standing up for his football program.

“It’s frustrating, and I am furious at the Pitt head coach for his comments yesterday,” Harlan told The Tribune. “I have made it very clear to my counterpart at Pitt that that’s unacceptable. It’s not the way we do things at the University of Utah.

“That being said, I think it shows the frustrations that are out there within the industry, and then outside, fans that may be confused about this whole thing.”

Harlan did not specify who he spoke with, but his counterpart at Pitt would be athletic director Heather Lyke.

“It is completely unacceptable to throw the University of Utah under the bus and I will not stand for anyone accusing us of something that is not true. I made my feelings known,” Harlan continued.

“You’re not allowed to induce anyone to come to any university, and you are not allowed to set pay-for-play contracts. Those are the two rules. To get in front of a press conference and just throw that out is unprofessional. They know how I feel about it.”

My take: Good for Harlan. At best, Narduzzi’s actions were irresponsible. At worst, that is the sort of thing that harms trust and reputations, potentially irreparably. And this was not the first time Narduzzi had made accusations about another school while offering no proof.

Back in the spring, Narduzzi accused USC and Lincoln Riley of NIL inducement after Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addision transferred to the Trojans.

Earlier this week during an interview on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, Narduzzi said he heard two schools had offered UNC star quarterback Drake Maye $5 million to transfer. He wouldn’t say which two schools.

Other things on my mind

• With an announced crowd of 7,202 mostly filling the lower bowl and getting plenty loud deep into the second half, the atmosphere and experience for Utah-TCU at Vivint Arena on Wednesday night was strong. Strong enough that, based on early feedback, Harlan sounds like they will at least explore playing one game per season, when possible, at the home of the Jazz.

Harlan and his team will dive into some data and poll season-ticket holders that were there, but his early hunch is that people will get on board for it. It should be noted that such a game would be part of the season-ticket package, just like Wednesday.

My only thought here is that if you’re going to move a game to Vivint, it has to be a name opponent. Can’t play a low or mid-major at Vivint and have 1,500 people show up. What that ultimately looks like will demand attention, because remember, the game Wednesday was only at the “neutral” site at Vivint because TCU insisted on playing the front end of the contract last season off campus at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth.

• Utes cornerback JT Broughton, an All–Pac-12 selection in 2020 before missing most of last season with a shoulder injury, said firmly after practice on Thursday that he will return in 2023.

Broughton’s return has not been in doubt, but that question was worth asking because he is in his fourth year of college, but has one season of eligibility remaining thanks to everyone getting a freebie in 2020 due to the pandemic.

With defections to the NFL Draft and the NCAA Transfer Portal still possible, Utah’s secondary projects as quite stacked, even with the loss of Clark Phillips III. Broughton will enter 2023 with 35 career games and 18 starts, while Zemaiah Vaughn opposite him emerged this fall as a potential long-term starter at the position.

Broughton said Thursday he wanted to make a run at the College Football Playoff. Such a run likely requires Cam Rising and Brant Kuithe to return for a sixth year, a notion that has gained steam in recent weeks. Neither Rising, nor Kuithe have announced future plans yet.