Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard: 'If we can't get football up and running, then we're in a world of hurt'

Cyclones preparing for stadium to be at 50 percent capacity this fall

Jack Trice Stadium in Ames before Iowa State's game against Iowa last season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Jack Trice Stadium in Ames before Iowa State's game against Iowa last season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

AMES — Jamie Pollard is a big fan of analogies. The Iowa State athletics director has seemingly had one for every stage of this pandemic.

During a virtual media teleconference on April 2, the analogy he used as it relates to the current coronavirus pandemic was whether it was a weekend snowstorm, a long winter or an ice age. At the time, he said it’s a long winter but if football couldn’t be played, it would be an ice age for athletics departments across the nation.

Football makes up 75 percent to 80 percent of all the revenue the Iowa State athletics department brings in. Losing the football season would be disastrous.

During the same teleconference in April, he used an analogy about a marathoner being told to run, and run hard, but the person wasn’t told where to run to and for how long so it was impossible to properly orient themselves and pace themselves correctly.

It has been Pollard’s goal to give his staff clear direction and understanding of where the Iowa State athletics department is at in the midst of the pandemic and where it’s headed.

On Wednesday, during the virtual Cyclones Tailgate tour, Pollard had a new analogy.

“We’re going to start swimming to shore,” Pollard said.

He isn’t necessarily sure who will get to shore first, whether or not they’ll get to shore at the same time or if they’ll even land at the same spot on the shore.

But for Pollard and Iowa State, it’s imperative that football coach Matt Campbell and staff and team get to shore first.

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“(Football) is the engine that pulls the train,” Pollard said. “If football can’t play and we can’t have fans in the stands, the financial hit is so significant that it will impact the other sports. I’ve had conversations with all the coaches that our sole focus is to get football back up and running.

“And then we’ll deal with volleyball, soccer and cross country — the other fall sports. Then we’ll worry about the other sports that don’t have to be here right now — I’d love to have them here but we can’t have them here if they become a diversion or if somebody gets sick and it impacts our ability to get football back up and running.

“If we can’t get football up and running, then we’re in a world of hurt.”

At this point, Pollard and his staff are preparing for a football game on Sept. 5.

“Clearly we have some hurdles to overcome to actually get the football team back on campus and getting them into football activities,” Pollard said. “Then they have to be able to go through fall practice before we go live in September.”

Iowa State was on the leading edge of coaches and athletics department staffs taking pay cuts and Iowa State is on the leading edge of bringing student athletes back to campus. Pollard said Mark Coberley, Iowa State’s associate athletics director for sports medicine, has become the department’s de facto medical officer.

Coberley instituted a first-of-its-kind rehab pilot project to get injured athletes or athletes recovering from surgery back on campus so they can test their procedures and make sure they work before 125 football players come back to prepare for a season.

“What Mark identified, even though we had to have our facilities closed by NCAA and Big 12 order, was that there was an opening that you could bring them in if they were going through medical treatment,” Pollard said. “We made the decision in May to bring back student athletes that were rehabbing surgeries or injuries and have them be the first athletes to come into the training room so we could test out our protocols, PPE, how we’re doing temperature checks. What are we doing to properly get those rehabbing athletes through the day?

“It’s helped us get a rhythm on how we attack that. That’s allowed us to build our momentum and it’s put us in a good spot that if the Big 12 decides that we can bring back the football players June 1, June 8, June 15, July 1 — you name it — we’re going to be ready to go and we’ll be ready to go with some confidence.”

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Iowa State football players have started to return to Ames even though they can’t use any of the facilities. But they want to make sure they’re ready for when the facilities reopen.

The other part of playing football this fall is the fans. Right now, Pollard is anticipating and preparing for 50 percent capacity.

“We’ll be communicating with our fan base over the next several weeks to start to hone in on what it looks like if we can only have 30,000 in the stadium,” Pollard said. “And that’s if the restrictions aren’t expanded. They could expand because Sept. 5 is a long ways away.”

Iowa State has had 22,000 people renew season tickets for next season. As it stands, Pollard said it may be only people that renew their season tickets that are allowed in the games.

But he recognizes that not everybody will be comfortable with attending games and not everybody who had a season ticket will be able to afford one again for the 2020 season, so he’s allowing those people to still have the rights to those tickets in 2021.

“We may use the ticket for somebody else this year but for 2021, you would still have rights to renew your ticket,” Pollard said. “We’re not going to hold that against anybody. Secondly, if you’ve renewed and as we get closer to September, and you’re just not comfortable with where we are as a society or you’re not comfortable with the mitigation that we put in place, then we’ll allow you to get a refund on your season ticket. That’s the right thing to do.

“We will try and put in mitigation to make people feel comfortable and safe but there’s nothing we can do to give people absolute protection from getting COVID by coming to the stadium. It’s not reasonable. In the end, we’ll put our mitigation plan out there and fans will have to ultimately decide on whether or not they’re comfortable coming or not. That has to be an individual decision that each fan has to make. If someone doesn’t want to come, then we’ll refund their ticket.”

College football, and college athletics as a whole, will look different in 2020 but Pollard and Iowa State are putting plans in place to make it run as smoothly as possible whenever it returns.

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“We’re making great progress on swimming to shore but none of us are on shore yet — some of us are closer than others,” Pollard said. “The goal is to get everybody on shore by the start of the school year.”

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