The Iowa football team’s luck finally ran out.
It was announced early Tuesday afternoon that Saturday night’s game against Michigan at Kinnick Stadium is canceled because of lingering COVID-19 issues with the Michigan program. The game was to be part of the Big Ten Conference’s Champions Week.
Michigan (2-4) had its final two regular-season games banged because of the coronavirus, including last week’s huge rivalry affair against Ohio State. That prompted the Big Ten to amend its preseason rules and allow the undefeated Buckeyes (5-0) to play in Saturday’s conference championship against Northwestern (6-1) despite not having played six games, the minimum amount the conference originally required.
Iowa (6-2) went through the entire regular season without a cancellation. The Hawkeyes have had very minimal, if any, COVID-19 issues in their program since practice began in October.
“We do not have enough available players at multiple position groups to field a team at Iowa,” Michigan athletics director Wade Manuel said in a statement. “We have more student-athletes out this week compared to last week and the week prior.”
“First and foremost, just disappointed that we’re not able to play Saturday,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “I think all of us were looking forward to this game, this challenge, and, of course, it’s not going to happen. We were really close. We felt great about getting eight games in and really close to getting a ninth. But these kinds of things happen.”
Friday's Champions Week game between Indiana and Purdue also has been canceled because of COVID-19 and contact tracing on both teams. The Big Ten had 12 games canceled in the regular season, with only Iowa, Penn State and Rutgers getting in all eight.
Maryland, Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin played just five games apiece.
“I want to take a minute just to congratulate all of our players and staff for the job they’ve done here during the course of the year,” Ferentz said. “We have been barely affected by this, the virus, over the last 10, 12 weeks, whatever it has been. I think a lot of it is just everybody being very, very diligent about what they’re doing, being aware of the protocols in place and everybody just playing strict attention to it. And also a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt at all.
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“I just want to compliment everybody on the job that they’ve done. Especially those on our medical staff. The doctors and the trainers, with the trainers really being on the front line ... going back to June, when everything got going here. I can’t say enough about the job that they’ve done. Absolutely phenomenal.”
Iowa players had their weekly media availability via Zoom at 11 a.m. Tuesday, after having completed morning practice. It was shortly thereafter that news broke of the cancellation.
“We’re preparing like we’re going to play,” Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell said. “We’re taking every step just like every other week.”
“We really don’t even know if we are going to play the game coming up this Saturday,” Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston said. “So we’re just building in practice the best that we can, with the intentions of improving on last week.”
Social media immediately went ablaze with speculation about Iowa finding a last-minute replacement opponent for Saturday. Fellow schools ranked in the AP Top 25 such as Georgia and Colorado also had games canceled this weekend because of COVID-19 issues by their opponents.
But Ferentz shut down that speculation in a big hurry, adding his team will treat this as a bye, leading up to what it hopes is a bowl game in a couple of weeks.
“If there is any talk of that I’m certainly not aware of it. I’d certainly be against it,” Ferentz said. “This isn’t baseball, with all due respect to baseball or basketball, where you play multiple games during the course of the week ... Probably 75 percent of our preparation (for Michigan) had already been done, maybe 80 percent. Our staff has been working hard since Monday morning getting ready for this ballgame.
“To try and flip it over and play somebody else this weekend wouldn’t be fair to the sport. Most of all, it wouldn’t be fair to our players. It just wouldn’t be representative of the team we want to put out on the field. I know it’s been done, somebody else did it this year. But we’ve gotten eight games in, and I think that would just be a very regrettable thing.”
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Ferentz said, for sure, the plan is to play in a bowl game somewhere against someone. That should be figured out sometime Sunday.
Eight bowls have announced they will not have games this postseason, including the Holiday Bowl, which Iowa won last year over Southern California.
“I would assume the bowls that are still standing are still going to push forward,” Ferentz said. “So as long as they do that, and as long as one of them will take us, that’s our plan. We want to play another game.”
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