UPDATE: The University of Iowa announced plans Friday for returning its football and basketball teams back to campus in early June.
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It appears that college football players soon will be returning to campus. The Big Ten’s top program, Ohio State, is planning on welcoming student-athletes back on June 8 on a voluntary basis. Athletics director Gene Smith is talking about fans in the stands.
Louisville announced Thursday a phased process of having players back beginning on May 27. Iowa released a statement Wednesday saying it’s not yet ready to open its doors.
“The Iowa Athletics Department continues to work with the UI’s Critical Incident Management Team on developing protocols related to student-athlete and staff returning to campus. A specific return date has not been determined at this time.”
While the Hawkeye brass might not be in a place for announcing its plan, it’s likely coming soon as players and their parents are being notified that June 8 is the target date. The state of Iowa is open for business after taking precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iowa shut down its campus just before spring break in the middle of March. Football coach Kirk Ferentz told us that all but about 18 players traveled home. Most of the guys that remained here lived close.
That means the majority of the team will be returning from places around the country. The coronavirus is impacting various regions differently, and that’s frequently changing.
Iowa features a roster with student-athletes from far away. Their parents will be sending their children back to campus amid an active pandemic.
“I must admit it gives me a little anxiety, especially with him being so far from home,” said Felicia Goodson, mother of sophomore running back Tyler Goodson. “As a mom my worst fear is that he returns to school and is exposed to COVID-19 and I am not there.
“However, one of the many reasons we chose Iowa was because we knew more than anything that coach Ferentz and the staff had our son’s best interest at heart beyond the game of football. That confidence we have in this staff makes it easier because we know that they will always make decisions in the best interest of our athletes.”
The Goodsons are from the Atlanta area in Suwanee, Ga. They live about 850 miles from Iowa City.
Iowa kicker Keith Duncan, who led the country in field goals in 2019, hails from Weddington, N.C. He’ll be a fifth-year senior next season. His father, Stuart Duncan, is comfortable sending his son the almost 1,000 miles back to the Hawkeye State.
“Of course, I want everyone to stay happy and healthy. We all take risks of catching something every time we meet as fans for a game or in groups as a part of our lives,” Stuart Duncan told HN.
Stuart Duncan flew to Dallas last week. He’s shopped at grocery stores with hundreds of people.
“All of us in those situations had the choice to either go in and shop, or fly, or not and stay home. There have been no spikes in cases due to airline travel or grocery shopping or getting outside and interacting with one another. I have spoken to numerous doctors who have said to get outside, interact safely and observe standards of care,” he said.
Dane Belton is a true sophomore from Tampa. He is a probable starter in the Iowa secondary.
“I’m cautious at how to go about things. We worry, naturally, with our son being over a thousand miles away, but that is what we as a family signed up for when he committed to Iowa. It helps that the coaching staff has “got him.” That has never changed,” said Danny Belton, Dane’s father.
Defensive coordinator/secondary coach Phil Parker being only a phone call away comforts Danny Belton. He holds that same faith in Ferentz and strength coach Chris Doyle.
“Things seem to be changing daily. I just take that info and worry, but not let it stress me. To me, this is par for the course with him being a young black man,” Danny Belton said.
The over-arching sentiment from Iowa football parents with whom HN spoke was their combined trust in the Iowa football program to keep their children safe.
“The worry that I have is that there are so many unknowns,” said Nikkie Britt, the mother of redshirt freshman Justin Britt of Indianapolis. “It’s not a level of fear. I’m excited for him to go back. He’s excited to go back. He lives and breathes football. So, it’s a no-brainer there.
“But the pandemic is real. I know two persons that have passed away from it, personally. So, it does affect me. I’ve also have had family members who have gotten sick and recovered. I’m not concerned about the (Iowa) program because I know they’re going to take care of him. They’re going to do what we entrusted them to do when we first gave him to Iowa. We’re just hoping we prepared him for taking care of himself when he’s not around his coaches and he’s not around us.”
Sam Britt, Justin’s father, has watched co-workers catch the virus and recover. He’s become comfortable with sending his son 350 miles away to Iowa City.
“He understands what the pandemic is and he understands the things that can happen if he puts himself in certain situations. I trust him to do what we taught him. He’ll be alright. Iowa wouldn’t allow him to come back into a bad situation. They’ll put him in a place to where he’s going to be good,” Sam Britt told HN.
Iowa has shared with parents some of how it plans in returning safely to workouts.
“I am more than happy with the safety precautions Iowa Football and the university are putting in place for a safe return of players and the policies they are following,” Stuart Duncan said. “We do not need others to make life decisions for us. We are capable enough to do our own research and make up our own mind. We also take responsibility for our actions and decisions. We do not hold anyone liable for what we choose to do.
“With that, we have talked with Keith and he is eager to get back and get started. We, as parents, agree. He has no underlying health concerns and is in a low-risk category. He is more likely to get sick from the flu. We need to get back to as close to normal as we can as soon as we can.”
Sam Britt and Stuart Duncan both are hoping fans are admitted into Kinnick Stadium for games this season.
“I will be greatly upset if no fans are allowed. Give me the option to make up my own mind to either stay home or go to a game. I do not need anyone deciding for me. It’s like saying I’m too stupid to decide for myself. Those that don’t feel comfortable going out, don’t have to. Those that want to, should be allowed. I will sign any waiver taking personal responsibility for my own decisions and be there early looking for a tailgate party,” Stuart Duncan said.
Said Sam Britt: “Honestly, if they do the (virus) check at the gate as well as they do the checking of the bags, I think we’ll all be alright. I’m all for it. I’m ready to sit down and cheer. That’s what I’m ready for.”
Felecia Goodson knew the day would arrive when she’d be sending her son back to Iowa. She’s braced herself for it.
“I think we all must come to the harsh realization that sooner or later we have to return to some sort of normal. What that new normal looks like no one really knows, but COVID is going to force us to figure it out,” she said.
Here’s our full interview with Nikki and Sam Britt talking about their son’s return to Iowa.