Iowa Football

Big Ten football in October might take a miracle, but before second semester is a definite maybe

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta: 'I'm encouraged by some of the things I'm hearing that might be able to allow us to start sooner than second semester'

Workers from MUSCO test the new stadium lights in Kinnick Stadium for the first time Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015 in Iowa City
Workers from MUSCO test the new stadium lights in Kinnick Stadium for the first time Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

During a Thursday meeting with the Presidential Committee on Athletics, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said the planned revenue for a regular football season with smaller crowds was $127.8 million. Without football and as of today with the Big Ten still unsteady on when or if it will play football in 2020, that revenue projection is now $23 million.

On Aug. 11, the Big Ten canceled fall football because of concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic. Two weeks later, the University of Iowa cut four sports — men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis. Positions have been eliminated and left unfilled. Fifteen-day furloughs will be happening for some UI athletics employees from September through December.

Barta said Iowa isn’t planning to cut more sports.

“How long can I guarantee that?” Barta asked. “Not forever.”

UI athletics still is in the process of securing a $75 million loan. The money budgeted for those four sports likely will be used to pay back the $75 million, which turns out to be just more than $5 million a year.

There’s only one question for anyone who works in Big Ten football right now: When is the league going to play football?

“It’s not an exaggeration that we’re talking about it every day, multiple times a day,” Barta said.

Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez is on a subcommittee that is working on multiple versions of a schedule, Barta said. The Big Ten currently is meeting with TV partners (Fox, ESPN/ABC, Big Ten Network) on possibilities.

“We can figure those out, the most important one is getting the medical team comfortable to say to our presidents and ADs, ‘Here’s the path forward for football and all of fall sports and basketball and winter sports.

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“The status is every day we’re working on it. We all want to play as fast as we can and as safely, but I’m not going to the types of schedules. I know there’s been a lot of speculation.”

Is there a path for football in the spring semester?

“I’m encouraged by some of the things I’m hearing that might be able to allow us to start sooner than second semester,” Barta said. “Now, I’m not a doctor nor am I an epidemiologist, but I have been listening to them a lot lately. We all read about advances in testing, and that’s critical. The more confidence you have and the more often you can test, the less likely it is you’re going to have spreading of COVID-19 in practice and games.”

Barta also mentioned how the coronavirus affects the heart and lungs as an important topic.

“I feel better today than I maybe did a month ago, but I know we’re not there yet,” said Barta, who mentioned that 90 percent of UI athletes polled want to play sports this fall with the virus still in the community. “Until I hear something I know that is going to convince the ADs and the presidents that we can go forward, I won’t say much until I see it.”

In a lawsuit eight Nebraska players brought against the Big Ten, it was revealed that the conference presidents and chancellors voted 11-3 to postpone the season, with Iowa being one of the “yes” votes for football.

Barta said he wasn’t aware of a second vote among Big Ten presidents/chancellors.

Barta sounded doubtful about Big Ten football returning in October.

“If a miracle was handed to us today. If you take this vaccine, you won’t get covid,” Barta said, “yeah, I suppose you could come up with a scenario where you could play in October. I don’t know between that miracle and where we are right now whether or not we could get that done. We’ll see what the medical group comes back with and the presidents will evaluate that.”

You have the “return in October” question against a fairly grim backdrop on the COVID-19 front for Iowa sports. After 93 athletes tested positive for the virus last week (Iowa releases no other details, just a total number of positive tests), the school announced Monday that it has shut down all fall sports until after Labor Day. This coincided with the return of students to the Iowa campus and a giant spike in COVID-19 numbers in Johnson County.

“In March, I didn’t know anyone who had tested positive,” Barta said. “In August, I know a lot of people personally who have tested positive.”

UI President Bruce Harreld also was in the meeting. He didn’t take questions but did say he is on the Big Ten’s “return to play” committee. Harreld added his concern for student-athletes who’ve had their sports and competitions erased and “unfortunately, I suspect that may still be with us for a while.”

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“I think the one thing I’ve learned personally about this virus is everyone says it’ll be different in a few weeks or a few months,” Harreld said. “We’re now into six months of this. Everyone is saying don’t worry, there will be a vaccine soon. I think, unfortunately, we’ll have to live with this quite a while longer.”

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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