Howe: Hawkeyes About to Be Part of Science Experiment

May 25, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

I hope any concerns end up being unfounded, all of us looking back years down the road and it being proven there was nothing to worry about. Everyone should be rooting for that outcome.

We’ve become so divided in this country. Being right too often is preferred to the best possible result for all. That’s sad and disheartening.

As colleges begin welcoming back student-athletes in a few weeks, let’s all hope for the best. It would be wonderful. If you have a soul, that’s the approach.

But let’s be clear. None of us knows how this situation will play out. It’s a science experiment. Iowa’s begins June 8 when football players start voluntary workouts. Basketball players jump in on June. 15. Classes remain on-line until at least the fall semester gets underway.

Experts know more now about COVID-19 than they did two and half months ago when much of the United State shut down. However, it’s a novel virus. It’s being studied non-stop by people much smarter than most of us. The Hawkeyes are becoming part of that study.

The university and the athletic department are following strict safety guidelines as prescribed by experts. Precautions are being taken. The folks in charge will do all they can because they care.

Will it all be enough to prevent tragedy? Again, we don’t know. It’s a new virus even for the experts. They’re about to find out a whole lot more in the next few months.

Perhaps calling it a science project comes across to you as being too crass. If so, you can refer to it as a pilot program, like the University of Iowa does. It’s semantics.

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It appears likely that the powers that be have been hammering out this plan awhile. Recall Iowa president Bruce Harreld’s news making comments from three weeks ago, stating his Hawkeyes would be back at practice June 1.

Players are willing subjects. They live for competition. The “voluntary” attached to these upcoming workouts serves Iowa and other universities should there be litigation. That’s not cynical. That’s life.

Most student-athletes feel invincible. And in truth, they’re much less likely to contract COVID-19 thanks to their age and fitness, at least from what we know so far. Football players are taught to be tough and suck it up, adding to the draw of getting back one the field.

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Nikkie Britt, mother of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Justin Britt, raised an interesting point this week as well in an HN story. She trusted the safety of her son in the football facility. She thought about how he and others would adhere to guidelines away from the building.

More than 100 football players are on their own, away from home, apart from parental guidance. Let’s all hope they continue following safety instructions. Will people out in the community with whom they come in contact do the same?

Iowa ranks among the Top 10 states in coronavirus spread right now. A study by the Imperial College of London includes it among 24 states with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. Data shows Iowa is failing at social distancing.

So, at least according to some experts, the Hawkeyes will be returning to an area with a higher probability of contracting the powerful germ than some other parts of the country. It could be viewed as a large petri dish after having 24 deaths from the disease reported statewide on Saturday.

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The experiment will be stretching beyond the athletes. Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz turns 65 Aug. 1 and enters the high-risk category for contracting COVID-19, according to the CDC. Quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe will be 67 on Aug. 18. Head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery is 61 and his assistant, Kirk Speraw, will be 64 on Aug. 21.

They’re all smart. They’ll be careful. That’s all they can do.

Beyond wishing and praying for the safety for all involved, we as sports fans have a stake in this trial. Smooth sailing between now and early September means college football kicks off on time, moving our new normal closer to our old normal.

We’re all on the same team here, folks. If, in the end, there was nothing to worry about, how glorious that would be. It’s time to pull up a chair and find out.

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