Any Iowa student athletes who do not feel comfortable training or competing in 2020 due to concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic will face no penalty, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said on a Thursday video conference.
“If we have a student athlete who chooses not to return, they will still remain in good standing with their team,” Barta said. “We will work to mitigate the concerns that they raise, but we would not [take a student athlete’s scholarship] if they felt they couldn’t compete or train due to COVID-19 virus.”
Barta said he has not yet received any direct concerns from Iowa athletes or their families about returning to team facilities, but stressed that safety will be the priority as the athletic department continues to work through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As long as the virus is here, and until a vaccine is created, there will be risks and we cannot eliminate the risk,” Barta said. “We will do what we can to mitigate it, and then people can make that choice.”
Under a pilot program announced by the University of Iowa May 22, Hawkeye football players are allowed to return to team facilities for voluntary workouts June 8 and men’s and women’s basketball players may return June 15.
Players who want to return for the voluntary period will come back to team facilities in waves, Barta said. The month of June will be used to determine how Hawkeye athletes and coaches adapt to the return to team facilities and when other Iowa teams are brought back.
Barta said there will be protocols for student athletes, whenever they return, to help mitigate the COVID-19 virus.
“Student athletes are going to be tested,” Barta said. “They’re going to be screening every day to get in and out of the building. There will be a cleaning protocol every time a space is used.”
According to Barta, the way teams are fed will also change for at least the immediate future. The football team is traditionally supplied with buffet-style meals at the team facility. Barta said that style of food distribution is probably gone for now, but teams will still provide athletes with a way to receive the proper nutrition.
Additionally, there will be limitations as to how many student athletes can train in one space at a given time, but Barta is not sure of the proper numbers at this time. Under the voluntary workout period, only strength coaches and athletic trainers can be in the same room as the athletes while they train.
Despite all the precautions in place, Barta acknowledged that there is a chance an Iowa athlete or staff member is diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. If that were to happen, Barta said the athletic department would not shut down.
“If one person were to get sick, and we were to shut down, we might as well not open up,” Barta said. “We expect there will be students and staff on this campus who will get the virus. We will have medical plans for the treatment of those students or those faculty or those staff, just like the community has. We will manage it with contact tracing, making sure we are aware of where that person was and then going through a protocol to return. But that’s the way it’s going to be approached. Not if, but when someone gets the virus, student or staff, having a plan in place.”