Disappointing. That was the word Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz used most Tuesday afternoon during a Zoom conference after the Big Ten Conference announced the postponement of the 2020 football season — and all 2020-21 fall sports — because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s reality,” he said. “We’ll get our feet on the ground and we’ll deal with it.”
The Big Ten noted in its release the decision was based on “multiple factors.”
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in the release. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.
“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference. Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult. While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”
That was a tough message for Ferentz to deliver to his players, who were “emotional” about the decision.
“Football is a big part of our lives,” he said. “It doesn’t mean more to anybody than the players … but it’s not life or death, either.”
Ferentz praised his players — calling them “unflappable” — and said they and coaches were working hard to play football this fall. That’s why it was so disappointing.
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“The majority of our guys … wanted to play,” Ferentz said, noting “two or three” were thinking about sitting out the season. “They wanted to play this fall.
“They’ve been here day in and day out, working.”
Other fall sports affected by this decision are volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey and women’s soccer. Men’s soccer also is off, but Iowa doesn’t offer that sport.
The Big Ten said it is evaluating a “number of options” for its fall sports, including possibly playing games in the spring.
“Decisions regarding winter and spring sports will also continue to be evaluated,” the release noted.
Ferentz wasn’t ready to talk about spring football yet.
“We have a lot of time to recalibrate,” he said.
But if football is played in the spring, he said the Hawkeyes will be ready. “I think we can do anything we want, if we do it intelligently,” he said. “We have to look at it as spring and fall combined.”
The Pac-12 also announced it is taking the fall off Tuesday, joining the Mid-American Conference, which was the first FBS league to postpone its football season Saturday. The Mountain West Conference followed Monday.
The Big 12 met Tuesday night to decide its fate, and is planning on a fall schedule. The ACC and the SEC, the other two Power Five conferences, have not announced any changes to their fall plans.
Not everyone in the Big Ten was thrilled with the decision. Nebraska issued a joint statement from its chancellor, system president, athletics director Bill Moos and football coach Scott Frost.
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“We are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten Conference to postpone the fall football season, as we have been and continue to be ready to play … we continue to strongly believe the absolute safest place for our student athletes is within the rigorous safety protocols, testing procedures, and the structure and support provided by Husker Athletics.
“… We hope it may be possible for our student athletes to have the opportunity to compete.”
A day earlier, Frost said “our university is committed to playing no matter what, no matter what that looks like and how that looks. We want to play no matter who it is or where it is.”
Ferentz said “it’s easy to say things …” but “the conference made a decision and we’re going to abide by that.”
The decision is going to have a huge financial impact on all college athletics. The broadcast rights for football generate millions of dollars for many conferences and schools. The Washington Post reported Wisconsin expected to lose $100 million.
“We’ll all get through this,” Ferentz said. “I promise you that.
“College sports will come back. They may look different … (but) at some point, we’ll be up and running again.”