Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan Addresses Fall Sports


University of Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan walks into the locker room with the University of Utah Football team after a 21-7 loss against the Washington Huskies at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah on Sat. Sept. 15, 2018.(Photo by: Justin Prather | The Utah Chronicle).

By Eric Jensen, Sports Writer


With fall sports still in limbo for most colleges, University of Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan shed some light on his thoughts on if sports should be played in the fall.

“It is so important that myself, our coaches, and administrative staff are doing one thing and one thing only. Is it safe? Is it safe for them to practice? Is it safe for them to play? If I believe it’s just not possible then we just aren’t going to play,” Harlan said on local radio station on Friday morning.

This comes a day after the BIG Ten announced it would be going to a conference only schedule in the fall. Wiping out the Pac-12’s arguably biggest game between Oregon and Ohio State, slated to be played September 12. The Pac-12 would also lose an important game between Washington and Michigan that was supposed to take place in Seattle.

Harlan was caught slightly off guard by the BIG Ten announcement yesterday but admitted it would effectively force the hand of other power five conferences to do the same.

“I did not expect any of the power fives to announce it (going to a conference only schedule) at that time but when one goes you can look at the others and say well now we have non league games affected,” Harlan said.

The NCAA released the following statement over Twitter last night following the BIG Ten’s announcement. “As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to affect college sports nationally, the NCAA supports its members as they make important decisions based on their specific circumstances and in the best interest of college athletes health and well being.”

They are essentially saying it is up to conferences to make decisions based on their current situations concerning COVID-19 within their specific regions. The Pac-12 has made no official announcement yet on its schedule this fall but Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic reported sources are telling her the Pac 12 is leaning the way of the BIG Ten.

Harlan’s comments suggest the same.

After being asked what a conference only schedule provides for the Pac-12, Harlan says it makes things a little bit easier for the conference.

“The reason [we are going to a league only schedule] one, just maximum flexibility within the league. The other thing if we had schools that were in hot spots that couldn’t get to the practice field in that August period,” Harlan said.

That August period is important to Harlan. Who said the minimum amount of time a school would need of practice to be ready for football would be about four to six weeks minimum just to get athletes in game shape to protect their health.

“In my mind if you don’t have at least four solid weeks in front of that game to practice, we still have to figure out how do we practice, last time I checked contact sport, if you don’t have four weeks before that game it’s hard to imagine conducting a football game,” Harlan said.

Though no official statement has been released yet, there is mounting evidence that the Pac-12 will follow the example of the BIG Ten this fall.

“July was going to be a month for massive decisions,” Harlan said.

Those decisions it seems are starting to be made for the Pac-12. Harlan cited rising numbers of COVID-19 in Salt Lake as one of the many reasons a delayed season might be necessary.

“Obviously the data in Salt Lake is not great right now. Do what you can, wear your mask so we can play football here and we can have people watch,” Harlan said.

That sentiment was echoed on July 9 by Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith.

“I’m really concerned we might not be able to play,” Smith said.

Those comments are starting to ring out across the nation from various athletics directors these days. If football doesn’t happen this fall, Utah stands to lose tens of millions of dollars off TV deals alone, especially considering what Harlan said Pac-12 games were worth in current TV deals.

“Every game that’s on Fox or ESPN is approximately worth five million dollars [per game],” Harlan said.

After Stanford cut 11 sports programs on July 8, Harlan addressed the concerns that Utah might be forced to make some of those cuts. He praised his coaching staff and administrative department for keeping Utah out of that situation for the time being.

“We’ve been able to here at Utah been able to manage our budget I’m so proud of our coaches and staff, we’ve been able to take off about 8.5 million dollars within our budget this year,” Harlan said.

The thought of losing football though keeps Harlan from sleeping at night though.

“Where you starting waking up in the middle of the night is when you start thinking about not having football. The last thing anyone would ever have to do would be eliminate a sport,” Harlan said. “We’re not looking at that right now at all.”

The situation in the Pac-12 and in college football right now are as fluid as they come. A lot can change in two weeks but it seems the next big deadline to watch is late August, specifically the week of August 24, about five weeks before Utah football plays their first Pac-12 opponent, the Cal Golden Bears.


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