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Iowa's Kirk Ferentz disappointed to see Big Ten scrap fall football season, backs league's leaders

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Kirk Ferentz sensed for two days that his Iowa football team wouldn’t be competing Sept. 5 as scheduled.

That’s why he canceled practices slated for Monday and Tuesday, intending to rest his Hawkeye players and point them toward a late September Big Ten Conference debut instead.

But Tuesday afternoon, Ferentz had to deliver a message he was hoping to avoid. The Big Ten pulled the plug on fall sports, deeming them to unsafe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The 14-team league instead will see if there’s a way to play in the spring.

“It’s emotional. It’s hard. Football is a big part of our lives, especially here in the Midwest,” Ferentz told reporters later Tuesday. “It doesn’t mean more to anybody than the players. The coaches are right there with it.

“But it’s not life or death, either. And this is probably a good reminder of that. We’re facing something that’s unprecedented in our history, at least in our lifetime.”

Ferentz, who turned 65 earlier this month and is entering his 22nd season as Iowa’s head coach, wanted to play this fall. He said his players, with a couple of possible exceptions, were eager to do so as well.

Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa football team won't be striding into Kinnick Stadium this fall, after the Big Ten Conference announced Tuesday that it was canceling that season and attempting to play in the spring.

But he also seemed at peace with the Big Ten’s decision, backing the “chain of command” that ultimately determined that walking away from the season was the right course of action, becoming the first Power 5 conference to make that unpopular call. The Pac-12 followed suit shortly after.

“There’s certain things that right now that I think presidents and medical experts have responsibility for,” Ferentz said.

“I feel confident that all of the input was taken from the coaches and athletic directors, and ultimately someone has to make a decision.”

Ferentz, as usual, was measured in his response to questions. There was no sense of anger or seeking to cast blame.

His most pointed comments seemed to be aimed at three of the Big Ten’s newer coaches — Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Nebraska’s Scott Frost and Ohio State’s Ryan Day — who came out with strongly worded statements Monday about their desire to play that quickly went viral. Frost even suggested that his Cornhuskers would seek out non-conference competition this fall if the Big Ten decided not to play.

Ferentz said the Hawkeyes would not pursue that course of action, even though university president Bruce Harreld and athletic director Gary Barta made it known that they wanted the football season to occur.

“It’s easy to say things in life. It’s another thing to say them and then do them,” Ferentz said. “It’s important that we’re here together and we discuss things independently. Every coach wanted to play.

“There’s been no discussion (at Iowa) about doing anything against what the conference decides, as much as you may want to.”

The lack of a season doesn’t mean Iowa’s football players won’t practice this fall. They’re allowed up to 20 hours a week, essentially doing this fall what would normally occur in the spring. But Ferentz gave his athletes the next two weeks off, after voluntary workouts that began June 8. They’ll reconvene Aug. 24, he said.

Ferentz believes that other football conferences will follow the Big Ten’s lead and scrap the fall season throughout the nation. But he also fired a warning shot to those schools who might try to poach players off of the rosters of teams that are now idle, or others who might try to block players from transferring.

“At least until the landscape settles a bit. That may be naïve in my thinking,” Ferentz said. “You’d like to think that everyone would be respectful of everybody’s decisions.”

As for his team, Ferentz is aware that seniors and underclassmen like center Tyler Linderbaum might decide to opt out of any spring season in order to prepare for the NFL Draft. He thinks that will occur throughout college football. He wondered whether the NFL might move its draft back from April to June in order to let things play out for the collegians.

“Players are going to have to sift this out,” Ferentz said.

Would a college season ultimately have been safe for the participants? Ferentz said it will remain a question without an answer. The Big Ten never advanced beyond non-padded, low-contact practice sessions.

“At some point, you’re going to have 22 players out on the field, in close quarters,” Ferentz said.

“That’s the one thing that we haven’t done yet. We haven’t had a contact practice. That’s a question the NFL is going to find out.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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