Iowa football program’s COVID-19 vaccination rate ‘not quite 70 percent,’ head coach Kirk Ferentz says

Ferentz said the program is encouraging its athletes to get the vaccine, but not mandating it.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz answers a question during day two of Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday, July 23. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Summer Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said his team’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is “not quite 70 percent” as of Friday, the final day of the 2021 Big Ten Media Days.

Ferentz, who is vaccinated, called that a “healthy number” but said the decision to receive the vaccine has not been unanimous within the program, although the program is encouraging its personnel to do so. Iowa is not mandating its players to receive the vaccine, Ferentz said, because that wouldn’t be the “proper thing to do.”

Iowa’s vaccination rate is lower than what other coaches from around the conference reported during the two-day media event. The Daily Iowan heard reports from the following programs on their COVID-19 vaccination progress:

  • Northwestern is 90-95 percent vaccinated, head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald, who is vaccinated, called the decision to get the vaccine a “personal choice” and said he will support any player who decides not to get vaccinated.
  • Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Michigan are all over 90 percent, per their respective head coaches.
  • Wisconsin is at 85 percent, per head coach Paul Chryst.
  • Penn State is “well above 70 percent,” head coach James Franklin said.
  • Franklin then expanded by saying: “The intention is to try to get as close to 100% as possible. I’m going to have conversations, I’m going to try to educate. I’m constantly sending my guys articles and videos and things that I see out there. I want guys to understand the choices they’re making. I do understand there are a small number of people who aren’t going to get it.”
  • Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson followed up by saying: “We’re making sure everyone on our team, or as many people as possible, get vaccinated. We’ve been trying to get everyone vaccinated.”
  • Illinois head coach Bret Bielema did not provide a vaccination rate, but said he expects his entire team to be vaccinated by fall camp.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said Thursday that the conference is taking a decentralized approach to COVID-19 policies this season. The 14 Big Ten institutions will determine their own policies regarding the virus. Before the start of the season however, the conference will combine those collective findings to create conference guidelines.

Warren said the conference still doesn’t know how it will handle a game that cannot be played because of a COVID-19 outbreak — whether it would be counted as a forfeit or a no contest, or if it could potentially be rescheduled.

Iowa went 6-2 last season, but its final two games (including the Music City Bowl) were canceled when the team’s opponents experienced COVID-19 outbreaks.

RELATED: Recap: Kirk Ferentz, six other Big Ten coaches take the stand during Day 2 of Big Ten Media Days

Ferentz said, from a competitive standpoint, the team’s vaccination rate is just another thing he, as the head coach, has to be aware of. If an unvaccinated player tests positive for COVID-19 during the season, or is forced into contact tracing protocols, they could be unavailable for a game.

Ferentz said one player tested positive for the virus in June, which impacted other players on the team and kept them away from training sessions.

“That’s where the reality of it set in for them,” Ferentz said. “If we were playing Saturday, you’re not playing. I think that’s something a lot of our players are probably weighing right now, just how valuable these opportunities are… We’re coming off a year where we only got to play eight games. And our last two games dematerialized because our opponents couldn’t make it to the starting line. So it’s just a reminder of how precious every opportunity to play is.”

Big Ten football players were subject to rapid COVID-19 tests daily throughout the 2020 season. Ferentz said Friday unvaccinated players will be tested once a week this upcoming season.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. — one of Iowa’s three player representatives at media days — said he is vaccinated and is encouraging his teammates to do the same.

“At the end of the day, we want to be a championship-level team,” Tracy said. “We can’t be a championship-level team if we have 10 guys in quarantine and another 10 out just because they were next to him… It’s going to become a big deal pretty soon that we are all vaccinated. If you aren’t, you’re really going to pay when the season comes around.”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa is not requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend classes this fall.