Kirk Ferentz: ‘Small number’ of Iowa football players have expressed concerns over playing amid COVID-19

There are no final announcements at this point about any players opting to sit the season out, Ferentz said Thursday.


Megan Nagorzanski

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz watches his players swarm the field before a football game between Iowa and Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, September 28, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Blue Raiders 48-3.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

After weeks of speculation, the Big Ten announced Wednesday that a football season will be played in the conference this fall. There’s a chance not every Iowa football player takes the field.

Head football coach Kirk Ferentz said on a video conference Thursday that some players have said they may not be comfortable competing in a season this fall because of ongoing concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a very small number that have concerns or have expressed concerns, but no final announcements at this point,” Ferentz said. “If we do get verification or a final announcement, we’ll announce it when it’s appropriate. It hasn’t been overly-concerning, I think back a couple months ago and that was on a lot of peoples’ minds. In a general way, I think our players are really excited about this opportunity.”

Standout players from around the conference like Purdue receiver Rondale Moore and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons had previously opted out of the season when it was going to take place in the winter or the spring. There’s speculation those players, and others in the conference, may revisit their decisions.

The Big Ten announced Wednesday that its Council of Presidents and Chancellors unanimously voted to resume the conference’s football season, which will start on Oct. 23-24.

RELATED: Big Ten calls an audible, will play football season this fall

Teams will play an eight-game regular season schedule, as well as one additional game against a cross-divisional opponent that will take place the same week as the Big Ten Championship Game, which is scheduled for Dec. 19.

“I am not too worried about who the opponents are, we have an idea who six of them are,” Ferentz said. “We’ll worry about that at a later time. Our focus is getting our team ready to doing what we can to do our best to have them ready to go on Oct. 23-24, whenever that may be.”

The Big Ten’s updated football schedule has not been released, but Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said Thursday that it is being finalized and will be released soon.

The schedule does not allow for any games to be postponed or made up. Eight games will be played in eight weeks. The conferences that have already started to play this fall have had several games be postponed because of COVID-19.

Ferentz mentioned Thursday that after the Big Ten postponed all fall sports on Aug. 11, the team “dropped its guard” in following COVID-19 safety protocols. He said that has since changed.

RELATED: Despite Big Ten football returning this fall, Iowa’s sports cuts remain final

The entire Iowa football team, as well as its coaches and any other staff members that will be on the field for games, will undergo daily antigen testing over the course of the season. Testing will be in place by Sept. 30 at the latest, which Ferentz said will allow his team to begin practicing in shoulder pads.

“You can’t play this game sitting in a chair,” Ferentz said. “There is a lot of benefit to meetings and working in shells, but it’s not the same. Part of it is the physical part, the body has to learn how to endure contact and deliver contact in a same way. Hopefully we’ll have enough time to get game ready.”

Iowa did not have any spring practices because of COVID-19, and when the season was postponed the team had only had three on-field practices, none of them padded. The Hawkeyes haven’t fully suited up in pads since their victory in the Holiday Bowl in December.

Ferentz previously said he preferred eight weeks to prepare for a season, four of which would be focused on training and four for on-field practices. Now, he has a little over a month.

“We’re going to look at the time frame and be as smart as we can and do the best we can to get our players ready to play, but not put them at risk,” Ferentz said. “We might not go as hard as we would in an August camp. We won’t have the flexibility of having all day long available to us, so it will be a different preseason. We have five weeks, so we’ll have a chance to get them ready to go.”

An increased likelihood of injury is a concern Ferentz has cited over having a shortened time to prepare for the season. The team is also back in classes, which differs from the usual preseason camp it would undergo in the summer.

And the biggest challenge Iowa and every other team faces is still the pandemic.

“The most important challenge any of us have now is our personal responsibility, whether it is masking, social-distancing, hygiene, social choices” Ferentz said. “This is going to be a challenge in terms of getting ready, because typically we have a three-week period where it is a football-only environment; that’s one of the great things about preseason. It gets down to who can handle that challenge the best.”

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