Iowa Football

A football-free Big Ten in 2020: Surreal

Denying and downplaying virus in March leads to a September loss

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz walks along rows of fans as the team arrives at Kinnick Stadium for their game against
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz walks along rows of fans as the team arrives at Kinnick Stadium for their game against Rutgers last Sept. 7. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Anger is flowing on the shores of the Olentangy, Wabash, Mississippi and Iowa rivers, and everywhere else in Big Ten country.

Coaches Jim Harbaugh of Michigan and Ryan Day of Ohio State can agree on one thing. So can Nebraska and Iowa, further proving how weird this year has been.

College football has been taken from Big Ten universities for 2020. The number of people directly affected will be enormous. The players and coaches, for starters. Athletes in nonrevenue sports who will see program after program cut in months to come. The media that broadcasts and covers football. The economies of college cities and their surrounding areas.

The fans.

I’m certainly not happy about losing the most-popular sports thing in Iowa. If you’re reading this newspaper sports section or clicked on this essay, you probably aren’t, either.

But as we’ve been reminded viciously in Iowa this year via pandemic and natural disaster, there’s a lot of bad stuff we can’t control.

I’m trying to accept the freaking hurricane that tore up so much of our state and savaged Cedar Rapids. Nature is nature and random is random, but I’ll never figure out what my hometown has done to deserve two monsters like the flood of 2008 and the derecho of 2020.

While many turn their ire to the Big Ten presidents for their decision to pull the plug on football and all fall sports, I’m more given to be furious at what got us here. Namely, denying or downplaying COVID-19 from the start.

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It’s been an epic failure of our government. We used to lead. We used to come together. We used to use our heads. Or are those just misty, watercolored memories of the way we were just revisionist history?

We used to think science was a pretty wonderful thing, something to buy into. Science did give us electricity, something that would be really nice to have again in my house.

When you see fans able to return to baseball games in South Korea, it stings to know that’s not also us in the stands at Major League Baseball games. When you see fans at stadiums for Australian Rules football, a physical game that’s part soccer and part rugby, it stings to think that won’t be us at the stands at Kinnick Stadium this fall because the pandemic is so far from being under control here as opposed to so many other developed nations.

As for the Big Ten’s (and Pac-12’s) decision to cancel fall sports for 2020, I’m riding the fence. I have no idea if it’s the right and necessary call that ultimately is in the best interest of the health and welfare of university populations and the athletes themselves, or if it’s panic-induced folly with long-term negative effects on those athletes and many American sectors.

Maybe it’s some of both.

Maybe in time we’ll look back at this and say there had been no real choice. The concept of university students being together in classrooms and dormitories seem risky enough to many, and that’s without the spitting and sweating and contact of football.

It will be interesting to see if the Big 12, ACC and SEC are just kicking the can down the road right now or will actually be able to pull off having a football season.

Can you imagine how those three conferences would look if they must terminate a season in midstream because things went early because things went so badly? Can you imagine the rage in Hawkeyeland if Iowa State plays a full season, not to mention how much better off ISU’s athletics department and the Ames economy would be financially than Iowa’s and Iowa City-Coralville’s?

Can you really imagine anything today? It’s all so surreal. A disease that opened in the U.S. by closing college basketball in mid-March still is pounding the nation in mid-August and picking off college football.

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Now, a uniquely American event/ritual called college football will be absent in the colossuses of Columbus and Tempe and Iowa City on autumn Saturdays, as well as at smaller college venues across the country.

I know who I blame, and it’s not university presidents caught between a rock and a hard place.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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