By Pat Harty
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Before covering Big Ten football media day on Friday, I thought the Iowa football team was most vulnerable on the defensive line, where three starters have to be replaced, including 2020 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Daviyon Nixon and first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Chauncey Golston.
The offensive line also had me concerned because three starters have to be replaced there, too, including Alaric Jackson, who is believed to be the only four-year starter at left tackle in program history.
And then there’s also the schedule where Iowa’s first two opponents are Indiana at home followed by Iowa State in Ames.
The Hoosiers are on the rise under highly popular head coach Tom Allen, while the Cyclones might have their best team in program history, and a head coach in Matt Campbell who is widely respected and considered one of the new bright stars in his profession.
But after hearing Kirk Ferentz say that not quite 70 percent of his players have been vaccinated for the highly contagious coronavirus, I’m now worried that Iowa will be most vulnerable from a player availability standpoint.
Ferentz called Iowa’s vaccination percentage a healthy number, but that really isn’t the case, especially when compared to some other Big Ten teams.
Iowa looks equal, or maybe even slightly better than Northwestern on paper, but 95 percent of the Northwestern players have been vaccinated, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald, so now I’m not so sure.
Ferentz was asked Friday if he anticipates anymore players getting vaccinated before the start of preseason practice.
“We’re not mandating it, I’m not mandating anything,” Ferentz said. “I don’t feel like that’s the proper thing to do.
“What we’ve tried to do is just articulate to our guys what the rules are, and what the standards are, although, I still don’t know what the game-day protocol is going to be. We’ll find that out next week, official word from the Big Ten.”
The Iowa players who haven’t been vaccinate are required to be tested on a regular basis and are subjected to contact tracing, according to Ferentz.
Anyone who tests positive then has to follow guidelines set for by the Centers for Disease Control.
Ferentz said Iowa had what he described as “one bout” with Covid-19 that affected a couple players in early June.
“That’s where the reality of it all set in for them, if we were playing Saturday, you’re not playing,” Ferentz said. “So I think that’s something a lot of our players are probably weighing, just how valuable these opportunities are. If we learned anything last year, nothing is assured as far as playing games.”
Sadly, the global pandemic has become so politically divisive that some refuse to get vaccinated for that reason alone. No Iowa student-athletes are being forced to get vaccinated, but there still is this perception that if you do so, you’re allowing your civil liberties to be trampled and the government to control your life.
I’m not saying that politics is keeping 30 percent of the Iowa football team from being vaccinated, but something is keeping three out of 10 players from doing what makes sense from a safety standpoint.
It could be fear of the unknown, a distrust in vaccines, or a feeling of invincibility since college football players are in such good shape, and considered to be at low risk of becoming seriously ill because of their age.
The problem is that it doesn’t take getting sick to be sidelined and put in quarantine.
All it takes is testing positive for the virus and a player would be out probably for multiple games.
Is it worth taking that risk to make a political statement, or because you’re afraid of something that appears to be safe?
As for the people who defend not getting vaccinated by saying my body, my choice, the problem with that is when those people become seriously, they rely on hospital resources to treat their body.
Some people just refuse to acknowledge that vaccines work. Look what happened to polio, small pox, mumps and measles after vaccines were developed. They for the most part went away.
There is so much false information being said about the coronavirus in order to push certain narratives, and some only listen to what they want to hear.
Indiana is one of five Big Ten schools that is requiring all students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated for Covid-19 in order to interact within their communities. The others are Illinois, Maryland, Northwestern and Rutgers.
Michigan is requiring all students living on campus, and all students-athletes to be vaccinated, but not all students.
Iowa is one eight Big Ten schools that is strongly encouraging students to get vaccinated, but is not requiring it. The others are Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin.
My hope was that Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta would’ve stepped in by now and ordered that all student-athletes get vaccinated. He almost certainly would’ve faced opposition, but some things are worth fighting for, especially health-related matters.
If Kirk Ferentz is unwilling to take that step, then Barta should exercise his authority.
But now it’s probably too late with the fall semester set to start in less than a month.
It wouldn’t be a surprise, given how quickly the new and highly contagious Delta variant is spreading throughout the United States, if some football games are canceled this fall. And the schools that aren’t requiring students to get vaccinated would only have themselves to blame.
It also wouldn’t be a surprise if by this fall we are forced to wear masks again.
North Carolina State doesn’t require its student-athletes to be vaccinated, and its baseball team paid a heavy price at the College World Series. An outbreak of positive Covid tests left the Wolfpack with just 13 players for its 3-1 loss to Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the double-elimination tournament.
North Carolina State was eliminated from the tournament because the NCAA declared its second game against Vanderbilt a no-contest due to a lack of players.
Something that could’ve so easily been avoided proved costly, and was a reminder that the global pandemic still is a threat.
So much progress has been made in the fight against the pandemic, but now it feels as if we’re moving back in the wrong direction for reasons that make little to no sense.
This is a safety issue in which politics shouldn’t be a factor.
The virus is an equal opportunity infector and doesn’t care about your political views. It only cares about finding ways to spread and mutate.
So yes, I was disappointed to hear that not quite 70 percent of the Iowa football team has been vaccinated. That’s a disturbingly low number, considering what we’re up against, and what we’ve had to endure over the past 16 months.