Iowa athletics director Gary Barta began Thursday’s meeting of the UI’s presidential committee on athletics with two numbers: It’s been 56 days since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world, which does include college athletics.
The other number was 120 days until the first 2020 football game in Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes are scheduled to play host to Northern Iowa on Sept. 5. Barta has been encouraged by what he’s heard from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He’s read about treatments, believes mass access to testing is coming.
The “if” and the “when” can simply be covered by this:
“If anybody says they have the answers, they’re not telling the truth,” Barta said Thursday. “While none of us believes a vaccine is in the near future, the access to testing and the increased improvement in treatment is encouraging so that we can get our students on campus. Getting our students on campus means we can get our student-athletes on campus. And then, ultimately, to host events in all sports, and then specifically making sure that we’re prepared to have a safe event in Kinnick Stadium.
“I don’t have a hard answer for you, but I know testing and treatment are improving and the better that gets in the next 120 days, the better the chances of as close to normal as possible.”
There are no hard answers. There are only hard questions.
There will be some budget cuts
Iowa hasn’t cut salaries or positions. That will change the longer COVID-19 reigns.
Barta has already met with senior staff and has cut back on some administrative costs. Next, Barta asked coaches to start identifying what cutting 5, 10 or 15 percent of their program would look like.
“We have to understand our peers are going through the same exercise,” Barta said. “It’s not just the University of Iowa. Everyone in the Big Ten is going through this.”
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Barta said Iowa won’t cut scholarships, which is a $13 to $14 million-per-year expense. There will be cuts of some sort, but Barta declined to go into specifics because the budget still is a work in progress.
The Big Ten also is looking at budget cutting, Barta said. Travel will get a hard look.
“Maybe a driving distance metric gets put in place,” Barta said. “Those are things that are being talked about, but everybody agrees, whether you’re from Iowa or Ohio State or Northwestern or Nebraska, you’re going to have significantly less revenue to work with going into next year.”
What about TV contracts and potential alterations?
Schools have already tasted this. The first financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic happened in March, when the NCAA announced a massive slashing of revenue distribution for 2020. The NCAA Board of Governors voted to allot $225 million to member schools, a 62.5 percent decrease from the expected $600 million.
The cancellation of the Big Ten men's basketball tournament and spring sports did have an impact on the Big Ten’s relationship with TV, Barta said. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren is talking with networks on how next year might look.
“One of the advantages is we’ve had long-term relationships with our TV partners,” Barta said. “Those are great partnerships going back. Going forward? No matter what the football season looks like this year, the fact is we’ll be playing football in the future, hopefully this year and for many years to come, and so it’s a long-term partnership and I think that’s the way Kevin Warren is looking at it and the way our TV partners are looking at it, rather than a short term.”
Would Iowa have football games without students on campus?
“That’s one that some people jump on and say absolutely no way and some people say yes,” Barta said. “I find it hard to imagine because that tells me there’s some challenge or concern about having students back on campus.”
If the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force worked through processes just to test and monitor football players, it could work, Barta said.
“But if there are no students in town, no activity and we’re still in our households, then no,” Barta said. “I doubt we’ll be in our households come August and September. If we are, I don’t see a scenario where we play football. If we’re out and about in our community and our communities are back to a new normal, then we’re going to find every safe way possible to play sports, not just football.”
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Can there be a staggered start to the college football season?
Can some programs and conferences start before others?
Here, Barta said he’s talked with Gene Taylor, current Kansas State athletics director and former deputy AD at Iowa. It sounds like the Big 12 has edited out more scenarios than the Big Ten.
The Big Ten has spent a lot of time on the hypotheticals.
“My guess is we’ve thought of all the things you’ve thought of and we’re trying to come up with hypotheticals for each of those. We’re having another meeting (Friday). We have meetings every morning with the Big Ten ADs and the commissioner talking about those very things. We had a meeting this morning with ADs and football coaches. It can be a little daunting at times and just when we think we have some great thoughts or scenarios, we think of others.”
That went into the next question about specific COVID-19 metrics college presidents, ADs and coaches might consider.
How could college football look when the light turns on? In April, the Big Ten put together an infectious disease task force. Recommendations come from that team to athletics, which then debates on what’s possible. Make no mistake, though, Barta said that team will have final say on when and how football can or will happen.
“It’s not going to be a flipped switch, it’s going to be a dimmer switch, I think,” Barta said. “It’s going to be turned back up a little bit at a time than just a flip of the switch.”
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