Iowa women's basketball: Lisa Bluder defends decision to postpone Hawkeyes' trip to Maryland
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Lisa Bluder knows she'll likely take some heat for being perceived as overly cautious in her decision. But at the end of the day, the Iowa women's basketball coach feels that's a small price to pay for avoiding a worst-case scenario.
Speaking less than 24 hours after the Hawkeyes announced they were postponing Thursday's game at Maryland to avoid any potential inauguration chaos, Bluder's tone sounded more like a concerned parent than a worried coach.
"Am I being cautious? Yeah. I'm paid to play games. I understand that," Bluder said. "But I made this decision after much deliberation and really with the health and safety of my student-athletes and staff in mind.
"As a mom, I asked myself, 'Would I take my family into (that area) right now? The answer is no. As a coach of these young women, my answer is the same. .. People may make light of my decision not to go, but I'd rather be cautious and safe than careless and regretful."
Although Thursday's game wasn't scheduled to tip until 3:30 p.m. CT, Iowa was set to fly into Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon. Bluder said the tipping point on postponement came Tuesday, when the hotel set to host the Hawkeyes said Iowa must move locations in order to accommodate National Guard members needing the space. The need for heightened security loomed over Inauguration Day following the U.S. Capitol rioting on Jan. 6.
While new lodging was arranged, Bluder's concerns only grew. Despite reassurance from Maryland the area was safe and secure — XFINITY Center in College Park, Maryland, sits 16 miles northeast of the U.S. Capitol Building — Bluder continued to push for a schedule adjustment.
"Maryland assured us that we were a little bit a ways away from Washington D.C.," Bluder said. "But when the National Guard is taking over your hotel, and thousands of troops and people are coming into that area and staying in hotels and eating in the restaurants and traveling, I just didn't want to take my players into that situation — to be surrounded by not only the National Guard but by all the people who were coming there to demonstrate.
"The hotel we're staying at was 10 minutes from campus. ... I did see a picture the hotel manager sent us from their hotel lobby this morning, and it just really confirmed my decision that I didn't go."
Although Bluder said she spoke with deputy director of athletics Barbara Burke — and reiterated the Iowa administration fully supported the move — the Hawkeyes' head coach said the call not to travel was "really my decision 100%." The Big Ten Conference and Maryland ultimately accepted the decision, though Bluder said the conference briefly discussed an Iowa forfeit should the team not travel.
As for now, the game will be a no-contest if a makeup option isn't available. The Maryland matchup is one of three games Iowa needs to reschedule, along with trips to Ohio State and Rutgers, the latter two postponed for COVID issues. As far as possible makeup stretches, the Hawkeyes don't have a game between Sunday, Jan. 31 and Sunday, Feb. 7 or between Wednesday, Feb. 10 and Thursday, Feb. 18.
"I'm not confident those games will be rescheduled, but we're going to try," Bluder said. "We'll look at our schedule and Maryland's schedule and see if (we can find a new date). This a postponement, not a cancellation."
Following Monday's comeback win over Purdue, Iowa (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten Conference) will now have nine days off between games. The Hawkeyes will next take the court Jan. 28 against Northwestern.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.