IOWA CITY — Amid widespread shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Iowa imposed a moratorium on all athletics-related activities through June 1.
“We’re ever so hopeful that this virus will be behind us at that point, and we’ll be able to get back to what we normally would do,” UI President Bruce Harreld told the Board of Regents on Thursday.
That includes Hawkeye football practice. The team already missed this its spring practice.
“Right now, June 1 is the date we’re going to get back to practice,” Harreld said.
Medical experts and trainers have advised players need “six to eight weeks of good practice” to stay safe, according to Harreld.
“I’m sure our coaches would love a lot more time so that they can make them winners,” he said. “But the key issue here is we can say we need six to eight weeks.”
NCAA athletics have been among the nationwide cancellations imposed in the wake of COVID-19 — which has ravaged the country and its economy, killing more than 61,000, infecting more than a million and leaving throngs out of work.
Iowa’s public universities — like most across the country — moved to online-only education in March and canceled most in-person classes and campus activities through the summer.
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Although some NCAA executives and coaches have been skeptical of a return to regular university athletics this fall, Harreld on Thursday voiced optimism — noting Big Ten leaders met Thursday morning “to review a number of issues.” Among them was sports.
“We’re fortunate because most of the Big Ten universities have medical systems and medical research systems, and so we actually each put an expert in a Big Ten commission that has been looking at a whole set of safety issues for athletics, not just football,” Harreld said.
Admitting conference leadership has no way of predicting what this virus will do, he said his university is “prepared for a slight delay” in the season or a range of other options.
“If we got to the worst of the worst, would we let the players play with no fans? I don’t know,” Harreld said. “Because if we’re at that stage with this virus, we’d have to do a lot of testing of the individual players.
“And I’m not going to go ‘yes or no’ on that. I’m going to go with the experts. But right now, June 1 is the date we’re going to get back to practice.”
Harreld’s comments came in the context of a discussion about the financial blow from COVID-19 on Iowa’s public university campuses.
ISU President Wendy Wintersteen didn’t say much about athletics-related decisions, only that she’ll watch what others in the Big 12 and Big Ten conferences do and “see what the possibilities and opportunities are.”
ISU athletics director Jamie Pollard on April 1 announced an expected $5 million shortfall from the Big 12 and NCAA basketball tournament cancellations. And he imposed 10 percent pay cuts across his department staff — from coaches to administrators — saving more than $3 million.
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Coaches also forfeited bonuses for next year, which could amount to $1 million for head football coach Matt Campbell or men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm. Iowa State athletics also imposed a range of changes aimed to retaining fans and donors, who might be facing financial challenges of their own.
And on Thursday, University of Northern Iowa athletics director David Harris announced all head coaches, senior staff, and some others, have agreed to take voluntary pay cuts through the rest of the budget year — which ends June 30.
The cut will help the department absorb an expected drop in NCAA distributions this spring, along with other unexpected losses from canceled events and lost revenue.
Harris and the head coaches of UNI’s five ticketed sports teams — football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and wrestling — will take a 10 percent pay cut for May and June. Senior staff, other head coaches, and select staff members have taken a range of salary reductions.
The department also has imposed a hiring and spending freeze and curtailed energy use in athletics facilities — with most employees working from home.
“The department will continue to act aggressively to remain in solid financial standing with more NCAA distribution shortcomings on the horizon and the length and total impact of the pandemic still unknown,” according to a UNI news release.
“There are a lot of questions yet to be answered,” Harris said in a statement. “We don’t know the entire path ahead of us, but we will continue to put our student-athletes first. We will do everything that we can to assure their success in every facet.”
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