Ferentz Knew Players Were Safe In Controlled Environment

John Bohnenkamp

It was back in April, in the early days of social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz knew there would be difficulties with putting on a 2020 season.

"We weren’t going to be allowed back in our building without medical experts saying here’s how we’ll do things, here’s how we’ll train, here’s how we’ll do this, this and this," Ferentz said on Tuesday, hours after the Big Ten ended the fall sports season with hopes of doing something in the spring. "I’ve always believed the safest time for our players was with us, because it’s a controlled environment, especially during these times.

"But it also dawned on me a long time ago — and again, I’m not a medical expert — at some point you’re going to have 22 bodies out there on the field, with people coming in close quarters and coming in contact. Not all 22 once, but the potential for contact was high."

Iowa and the rest of the Big Ten schools got their 10-game season schedule last Wednesday, and the Hawkeyes started practice on Friday. But on Saturday, the conference paused the progression to full-contact workouts over concerns about the COVID-19 virus, especially with a heart condition called myocarditis that had been found in a reported 10 Big Ten athletes who had contracted the virus.

That ultimately played a role in the conference calling off the season.

When the Iowa campus, including athletic facilities, reopened in late May, players, coaches and staff coming into the Hawkeyes' football building had their temperatures checked daily and were asked if they had any symptoms of the virus. Everyone had to wear a mask, and training schedules and workout plans were altered to limit interactions.

"I really felt when we got back here the safest time with our players would be under our guidance," Ferentz said, meaning the coaches and the team's medical staff.

In photos from Iowa's first three practices, players and coaches were wearing masks. Helmets were fitting with face shields.

But contact work meant a decline in distancing. That, Ferentz said, was the problem.

"Unlike playing professional golf, or driving race cars, or some of the things we’ve seen on TV, football is a very different sport," he said. "How that equates to the disease, and the communication of the virus, I’m not smart enough to answer that question, but obviously that’s a big concern in the medical community. That’s the one thing that we haven’t done yet. We haven’t had contact practices.

"I felt like our practices have been pretty safe, and our medical people have watched. But the big question was what happens when we start having contact on a routine basis. And that’s the nature of football.

"I don’t think anybody’s got that answer yet."

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz wears a mask during a press conference in July. (Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen-Imagn Content Services)