By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Under normal circumstances, the July 4th holiday is sort of a reminder that football is approaching.
The annual Big Ten Media Day event is held in late July, and with that comes the start of preseason practice.
But needless to say, the circumstances are anything but normal, especially in the case of the Iowa football team.
Big Ten Media Day has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the status of the 2020 season still is uncertain, and the Iowa football program is being investigated by a Kansas City law firm due to multiple accusations of racial disparities and bullying by former black players.
The circumstances are surreal, an unusual case in which fact is stranger than fiction.
And we’re knee deep in sadness, from the fear and frustration with the virus to the shame and embarrassment from the investigation, these are tough times for Hawkeye fans, and for sports fans in general.
High school baseball and softball games are being cancelled it seems almost on a regular basis now, and it is due to somebody on a team having tested positive for the highly contagious Coronavirus.
The high school summer sports season is serving as a testing ground for fall sports, and so far, the results have been discouraging because the virus isn’t going away, and because some refuse to take the virus seriously.
The fact that wearing a mask has turned into a political debate is just ridiculous.
It’s kind of like having to wear a seat belt, somewhat of a nuisance, but a small price to pay for being safer.
I often get asked if I think football will be played this fall, but up until recently, I didn’t answer because I didn’t have a feeling either way.
But now I do, and my answer is no.
I hope and pray that I’m wrong, and will gladly acknowledge being wrong if the 2020 season starts on time, and with fans in the stands.
But with cases rising in nearly 40 states, and with no vaccine currently available, it’s hard to envision college campuses being open this fall for students.
And without an open campus, how could you play football?
How could you justify a setup in which football players are expected to operate as if it is business as usual, while their fellow students are taking classes online?
It’s hard to see the parents of football players agreeing to what could be perceived as nothing more than a desperate money grab.
The plan is for campuses to be open this fall, but a lot can change in a hurry because the situation is so fluid.
The Iowa Athletic Department has reported 14 positive tests over the previous two weeks, but without identifying which sports are involved.
The Clemson football program has been rocked by the virus, and announced on June 19th that 28 people had tested positive, including 23 players.
South Carolina governor Henry McMaster recently raised a few eyebrows while addressing the chance of football being played in his state under the current circumstances.
“If these numbers continue to rise and the danger persists, I can’t do it,” McMaster said. “I won’t do it.”
And while it’s true that the virus usually poses little threat to college athletes due to their age and physical condition, there still are cases in which young people in good health have become seriously ill.
Young people also are a threat to infect somebody older, and that’s where the concern grows.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz turns 65 years old on Aug. 1, while quarterback coach Ken O’Keefe turns 67 on Aug. 18. They both could be vulnerable and at risk.
I’m still holding out hope that the 2020 season will be played at some point, maybe in the early spring of 2021, and in stadiums that will likely be less than half full.
But the chance of playing in the fall, and with normal seating capacity, appears to be slim to none at this point.
The loss of an Iowa football season would be devastating to the Iowa City economy. It’s frightening to think about what could happen without seven home games pumping more than $100 million into the local economy.
Some will accuse me of being an alarmist, and of being afraid to live, but I’m really just reacting to what the virus is doing, and to how we’re responding to it as a nation.
And right now, I don’t like what I see.