A Cruel Summer For Iowa Athletics

John Bohnenkamp

Classes start at the University of Iowa on Monday.

It marks the end of a cruel summer for the Iowa athletic department — some of it the fault of the COVID-19 virus, much of it the fault of the failures of others.

Think back to May 29, when the athletic department started to reopen from the pandemic that shut everything down since mid-March. It was a time to be positive after a couple of months of gloom.

What happened next was tumult.

Within days of the reopening, there were allegations of racial disparities within the football program, leading to the departure of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, and an independent review that rightfully shook the foundation of a program that head coach Kirk Ferentz thought was so solid.

The Hawkeyes had a Big Ten football schedule in hand — 10 games against conference teams only — then, like everyone else in the conference, had it snatched away as the league's presidents and chancellors decided it was too unsafe to play. All fall sports felt the same decision.

Four sports were scattered in the financial winds of the pandemic storm — gymnasts, swimmers, tennis players, and all of their coaches reduced to cold numbers on a budget sheet.

Even the things that are positive have their negatives. Luka Garza, a sure favorite to be the national player of the year, is back for a men's basketball team ranked in just about everyone's preseason top-5 or top-10, but we don't even know how that season is going to look. The wrestling team, denied a chance at a national championship back in March, may be more talented, and is certainly more experience, but we have no idea how that season could look.

We will get a chance to ask athletics director Gary Barta questions during his Monday video conference about what has happened and what could come next. The Barta and Ferentz press conferences of the summer have tried to contain the damage, but not every answer can alleviate the uncertainty of what is ahead.

The coronavirus and its havoc have been unpredictable, and you can't blame those in power for that.

But there are lessons to be learned here.

Ferentz and Barta have admitted their failures in the racial issues that have plagued the football program, and they have consistently vowed to fix the problems since they were revealed.

Even with no football this fall, that work must continue. The Hawkeyes will be working toward a possible winter/spring season, but that work must be internal as well as on the field. Otherwise, the promises made during the summer will be just words.

And there must be a financial education as well.

Iowa, like almost all athletic departments, particularly in the Power 5 conferences, has gorged on the financial excesses of recent years. A rainy-day fund can't look like a puddle. And while no one could predict the catastrophic economic costs of a virus no one knew about a few months ago, the realization that anything can happen must be in the back of everyone's minds when planning for the future.

We will know soon what the plans for a winter season will look like. We will know soon what a crowded spring season will look like. We will also know that it could be erased at any time.

A new school year usually brings fresh optimism. Instead, it brings a sense of dread of what comes next.

You just hope the summer's lessons aren't forgotten.