By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It was easy to overlook, but something significant happened last weekend at Banks Field, besides the Iowa baseball team winning two out of three games against Penn State.
Instead of having zoom conferences with the media, Iowa head coach Rick Heller and select players after each game held in-person interviews near the Iowa dugout.
A post-game routine that used to be taken for granted before the global pandemic was anything but routine under the unusual circumstances.
The fact that Iowa allowed in-person interviews, along with 50 percent capacity in attendance, are encouraging signs, and more proof that we’re finally gaining an edge on the coronavirus.
Kirk Ferentz and select players from the Iowa football team also held in-person interviews after the final spring practice on May 1 above the north end zone at Kinnick Stadium.
Members of the media gathered around each of the players and asked questions, just like old times, the only real difference being that each media member wore a mask. It was a significant step forward after more than a year of doing zoom conferences.
And then more good news came on Monday as Iowa announced that all 262 COVID-19 tests conducted by the athletic department last week were negative.
Combine that positive result with about one-third of the nation being fully vaccinated and there is reason to be optimistic about the fall.
I’m not saying Kinnick Stadium will be filled to capacity for the Sept. 4 season opener against Indiana, but there is reason to believe it will be at least half full with fans, and maybe three-quarters full.
The season opener still is more than three months away, and if we stay on this current track, maybe Kinnick Stadium will be more than half full for the season opener.
Imagine the thrill of seeing 40,000 to 60,000 fans performing the Wave after the year they’ve had to endure.
Think about life at this time a year ago.
The outbreak of the virus had caused much of what we do for work, and for entertainment, to shutdown, including sports at all levels.
The virus would tragically go on to kill more than 580,000 in the United States alone, but that period of darkness was just getting started at this time last year, and there was no way of knowing what was about to happen.
It apparently had to get worse before it could better, and hopefully, the worst is now behind us.
Federal health officials on Thursday advised that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus may stop wearing masks or maintaining social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings, regardless of size.
And while that is certainly a positive step forward, approximately two-thirds of the country still isn’t fully vaccinated, so that could impact attendance at large football stadiums this fall.
Hopefully, there will be tailgating and gridlock as part of the game-day experience again, although, that might be too optimistic for this fall.
But there finally is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that occurred to me as I did in-person interviews with Hawkeye student-athletes for the first time in over a year.
So I’m predicting that Kinnick Stadium will be at least half to three-quarters full with fans for the season opener.
Fans will probably be asked to wear masks, and while some might protest, it seems a small price to pay to feel normal again.
Iowa also needs home-field advantage in order to gain an edge against what should be a pretty good Indiana squad.
The Iowa baseball team has benefitted from having fans in the stands this spring, and so too would the Iowa football team this fall.
Because home-field advantage is part of being normal.