IOWA CITY, Iowa - The release hit the email inbox, as it has every Monday since last June.
Iowa released its weekly numbers for COVID-19 testing within the athletic department — one positive test and 208 negative tests last week.
This release, though, had a note at the top.
This will be the final update due to the end of the academic year. The UI Athletics Department will revisit this process starting in the fall depending on future guidelines.
Hopefully, it was the final update ever.
No one knew how this year would go when college sports started up again after the pause for the pandemic. There were stops and starts, pauses in workouts, changes in schedule. Stadiums and arenas were silent, other than the voices of those let in and the piped-in crowd noise.
It was strange. And yet somehow, it worked.
We were given every week a scoreboard of the success within the department of keeping the COVID-19 numbers as low as possible. The final numbers for the year — 446 positive tests, 20,333 negative tests and one inconclusive test — are indicative of the work behind the scenes to make this year happen. It was never going to be easy for the athletes, coaches and staff members, but somehow they pulled it off.
Now, it seems, a normal year is ahead.
The process of getting fans back to games has started. Iowa held two open football practices with fans at Kinnick Stadium, and spring sports have had limited attendance.
More than 1,000 fans showed up each day for Iowa’s weekend baseball series against Illinois at Duane Banks Field. Some fans were in masks, most were not. It felt normal, and normal is what we’re hoping for when a new season arrives
We expect a full Kinnick Stadium in the fall, a packed Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the winter. The voices will return, and that’s a good thing.
What has been interesting is how this year has gone on without fans.
You missed a 6-2 football season. The home win over Wisconsin to end the regular season would have been one big party had fans been allowed in, but it was too quiet when the Hawkeyes celebrated as time ran out.
You missed the brilliance of Luka Garza, the dominance of Spencer Lee, and the emergence of Caitlin Clark.
Great team performances, whether it was Iowa’s women’s soccer or field hockey teams, or track and field, baseball and softball.
So many stories played out in virtually empty arenas. We at least got to tell you about them by watching in person, but post-game interviews, as well as the weekly press conferences, were done over Zoom. We were all in the same building, connected by computers.
It’s why it felt good to have a post-practice scrum around four Iowa football players after the last practice on May 1 — we were still in masks, but at least we were face-to-face with the people we were interviewing. The press conference with coach Kirk Ferentz was also face-to-face, but we were still socially distanced.
I had concluded my interview with kicker Caleb Shudak in that media availability. I thanked him, and said it was good to be interviewing in person again. Hopefully, I said, things will be back to normal when it’s time to start talking football again.
“That would be good,” Shudak said.
And that’s what everyone hopes.
No more Monday updates, no more COVID-19 scoreboard.