When the Big Ten revived its fall football season last week, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz described a sort of existential crisis that sounded very, very un-Hawkeye.
The Big Ten’s decision on Aug. 11 to postpone the fall football season for 2020 did that to a lot of people. When the target date of Sept. 5 turns into a “maybe in January,” it is going to take some time to process mentally and emotionally, two things that are exceedingly difficult to quantify in football but you know problems when you see them.
“It’s been interesting, from my perspective, to watch what’s going on since our players got back (from a week off this spring),” Ferentz said. “We had some issues at the front end back in June, when really nobody, I don’t think, appreciated the total seriousness of this whole thing. So, that is one period where we had some testing come back (positive), but our guys did a great job during the course of the summer and really settled in and we got into a pretty good routine.”
Then, the rest of the University of Iowa arrived at the end of August. Hey, friends and people and fun and ...
“Not only the addition of the student body being here, but I think also the fact that we weren’t playing factored into it,” Ferentz said. “And I think we dropped our guard a little bit, but happy to say things have leveled off since that time.”
The Hawkeyes had physical dealings with COVID-19. There’s no official tally for cases throughout this period for the Hawkeyes. Through sources, at one point, the positive test count was 19. The Hawkeyes also went through the mental adversity that comes with having your season thrown into limbo with a “maybe January” tossed in to drive them even more crazy.
And then college football games started showing up on TV. Of course, that made it worse.
“I tried to make myself as numb as I could to it,” Ferentz said, describing a technique that surely many Big Ten fans fell back on. “I’ve developed a habit of that over the last several weeks regarding that decision and then it was the strangest weekend to be watching football, too. ... Quite frankly, it was hard to stay interested in any of the games.”
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Those words have echoed through the Big Ten canyons for weeks. Now, the Hawkeyes are practicing. Practice officially begins Sept. 30, with the rapid-daily testing of players that allowed Big Ten presidents and chancellors to reconsider having a fall 2020 season.
Generally, and in most years, teams got in the neighborhood of 25 fall camp practices. With school in session and COVID-19, it’s hard to put math on the number of practices the Hawkeyes can fit in.
We kind of take the physical part of football for granted. It is not something you can do after simply pushing away from the breakfast table. Every fall camp ramps up to contact periods.
This is the most important month for Iowa football since last December’s preparation for the Holiday Bowl, especially when you factor that COVID-19 struck before the Hawkeyes began spring practice.
“You’ve heard me say before, you can’t play this game sitting in a chair,” Ferentz said. “There’s a lot to benefit from meetings and going out and working in shells, but it’s still not the same. It’s a physical part, you know, the body has to learn how to play with contact and deliver contact in a safe way and if you don’t do enough of that, that’s going to lead to issues and different issues and the soft tissue issues.”
One thing Iowa has going for it is alignment. President Bruce Harreld wanted football and was one of three presidents who voted “yes” the first time around. Absolutely, athletics director Gary Barta wanted football He spent most of his spring and summer meeting with medical personnel and other ADs on safely opening Big Ten football and keeping it open.
Being aligned in leadership probably helps Iowa move a little more quickly with football decisions. The Big Ten said the vote to return to fall football was unanimous, the first sign of alignment in the league since Aug. 11.
If Iowa “letting its guard down” was out of character for Iowa, the Big Ten being a total void of information and explanation after Aug. 11 was incredibly un-Big Ten and so you have to question Commissioner Kevin Warren’s ability to lead the conference. Yes, the first-year commissioner has faced down a “once in a lifetime” challenge with the coronavirus pandemic, but his communication has lacked.
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Eight days after Warren announced the postponement of fall football, the Big Ten posted an open letter written by Warren saying the league would not revisit the decision. About a month later, after rapid testing became available and the myocarditis scare receded, Warren was on a Zoom call saying the league is back.
Barta was front and center when this went down. Athletics directors and coaches were the ones taking direction from the presidents/chancellors and the commissioner. The presidents/chancellors are the bosses of the Big Ten, you just don’t see their power exhibited this way, except for maybe “once in a lifetime” (hopefully) pandemics.
“It’s no secret that through all this, all of us, not just the commissioner, not just the presidents, not just the ADs, the coaches, we all can learn from this and do a better job of communicating,” Barta said. “On the other hand, we’re in the middle of a crisis and there is so much coming at all of us, whether it’s a president, the commissioner or an AD or coach.
“That’s no excuse. We have to acknowledge that there are things we look back on that we could’ve improved upon. But right now, I was so excited yesterday that there is a path forward, that I can tell you that the conversations are focused on going forward. And what we can do going forward. I’m not going to I’m not going to go all the way down a rabbit hole and say what was right here what was wrong there? I’m just going to say we can all learn from it. We can all get better and move forward.”
The Hawkeyes open the season Oct. 24 at Purdue. Fingers crossed and, hopefully for your team, the number of COVID-19 cases doesn’t reach more than a handful.
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