Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday he wasn’t going to talk specifics about COVID-19 within his football program. Athletics director Gary Barta concurred with that sentiment Monday during a Zoom chat with reporters.
But they ended up having to Monday night.
That’s when it was announced the Hawkeyes were putting all in-person football activities on pause because of a coronavirus outbreak within the program. Ferentz announced last week he had COVID-19, and he is believed to be one of six coaches infected, according to sources.
Multiple players also have tested positive, as have other support staff personnel, sources said. Iowa is scheduled to play Missouri in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 30.
“As I shared this morning, last week we experienced an increase in positives cases within our football program,” Barta said, in a statement. “Our student-athletes returned to testing today and based on additional positive tests and contact tracing, our medical team has made the decision to pause in-person activities for a minimum of five days. We will continue to follow Big Ten Conference medical protocol and participate in daily rapid antigen testing. Based on the information we have available today, we feel confident in our ability to participate in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl.”
As Barta said, Iowa still intends to play a game scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.
“Late this afternoon, I met with our Player Leadership Group, and they overwhelmingly want to play in the bowl game,” Ferentz said in a statement. “We will continue to prepare and put our game plan together for the TransPerfect Music City Bowl using the technology we have available. While our first priority is the health and safety of our players and staff, our goal is to play and compete on Dec. 30.”
Missouri has had two of its starters already announce they are opting out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, including linebacker and team captain Nick Bolton. Ferentz said Sunday he didn’t anticipate any of his players following suit, but he wouldn’t be surprised by anything.
The Iowa athletics department released its weekly testing numbers Monday, with 14 confirmed positive cases last week, though Barta said that did not just come from football.
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“Fourteen is up a little bit,” Barta said in a Zoom conference Monday morning with reporters. “I know everybody is aware Kirk Ferentz is one of those because he chose to share that. I can tell you that there were other football staff and student-athletes in that group. It wasn’t entirely football, it was other sports represented in those 14 positives.”
Barta was asked in a follow-up question if multiple Iowa football coaches have tested positive and are in quarantine/isolation, as is believed.
“There are coaching staff and student-athletes, including football,” Barta said. “But as we have been doing since the beginning, that’s as far as I’ll go.”
“The last time the team practiced and met was (last) Tuesday night, and the team now hasn’t been together for this would be going on day six,” Barta said. “They are all coming back today, and they will all be tested. We’ll continue to utilize our University of Iowa testing protocol, but also the Big Ten protocol to move forward.”
The Big Ten uses a color-coded guide when it comes to COVID-19 protocol. Everything continues as is (Green level) if a team’s positivity rate is 2 percent or under and its population positivity rate (coaches, support staff, etc.) is 3.5 percent or under.
An Orange level would be if team positivity rate is 2 to 5 percent or if the population positivity rate is 3.5 to 7.5 percent. Red level is greater than 5 percent team wise or 7.5 percent population wise.
A Green/Orange combination, respectively, doesn’t change anything. An Orange/Orange combination or Orange/Red would mean a team has to “proceed with caution,” and perhaps alter practice and meeting schedules and consider canceling a game to prevent further potential spread.
Red/Red forces a team to stop all practices and games for a minimum of seven days.
“We have our medical team who will make the determination, and they will do it in conjunction with the Big Ten protocols,” Barta said. “We’ll be watching the overall rate, the two rates you have identified. We have an infectious disease representative on our campus, we have our team doctor that we will be communicating with the Big Ten and with us. If we’re still within the percentages that are allowed by the Big Ten, then we’ll keep moving forward. If at any time, we were to go higher than those percentages, if the doctors shared that information with us, then we’d have to go on pause, which has been the case throughout the country on occasion.”
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Monday’s testing certainly will tell a lot. Keep in mind, Ferentz said his team had its share of cases over the summer and early fall when it appeared there would not be a season.
Anyone who has tested positive within the last 90 days does not need to be tested again, according to Big Ten protocol. Any player who tests positive must sit out 17 days, meaning any player who tested positive last week will not play in the bowl game.
“One of the things I talked to Kirk about this morning was just the plan or for anyone else who is going through the COVID infection and protocol,” Barta said. “He has a plan, and we’re ready to go. Obviously he’ll have to work from home until his quarantine, his isolation is up. He has a plan going forward, and we’ll work that plan.”
Barta said Iowa and other Big Ten teams will lose money playing in bowl games. Iowa’s plan is to travel to Nashville the day before the Music City Bowl and return home after the game.
He said his athletics program is facing an estimated budget deficit of between $55 million and $65 million.
“That’s a huge deficit that we’re going to have to be working through probably for the next decade,” he said.
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