Iowa football pausing workouts after COVID-19 outbreak ahead of Music City Bowl

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The University of Iowa football program has halted workouts ahead of the Dec. 30 TransPerfect Music City Bowl after six coaches and several players tested positive for COVID-19, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told the Des Moines Register.

The Hawkeyes are pausing in-person team activities through Friday, the source said. But as of Monday night, they were still proceeding as if they were going to be able to participate in the Nashville bowl game against Missouri.

At 7:15 p.m. Monday night, the university confirmed that it was pausing team activities for "a minimum of five days" but did not specify the total number of positive COVID-19 cases in football. 

"Last week, we experienced an increase in positives cases within our football program. Our student-athletes returned to testing (Monday) and based on additional positive tests and contact tracing, our medical team has made the decision to pause in-person activities for a minimum of five days," Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in the university statement. "We will continue to follow Big Ten Conference medical protocol and participate in daily rapid antigen testing. Based on the information we have available (Monday), we feel confident in our ability to participate in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl.” 

Kirk Ferentz was among the six Iowa coaches who tested positive for COVID-19.

As was already known, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was among the coaches who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Ferentz reported Sunday that he was feeling “lucky” not to have symptoms beyond an annoying cough. Ferentz, 65, could be cleared to return to the Iowa football facility as early as Sunday — after a mandatory 10-day isolation period, per Big Ten protocol for coaches, as long as he’s been symptom-free for 24 hours.

If other Iowa coaches are in a similar boat, they could conceivably return and scrape together a few practices ahead of the Music City Bowl. The team planned to fly to Nashville on Dec. 29, as opposed to the usual six- or seven-day advance arrival for a bowl game. A leadership-group vote taken Monday night affirmed the players' hope to participate in the game.

Ferentz affirmed in the university statement that game preparations will take place virtually, in the meantime.

“Late (Monday) afternoon I met with our player leadership group and they overwhelmingly want to play in the bowl game," Ferentz said. "While our first priority is the health and safety of our players and staff, our goal is to play and compete on Dec. 30.”

Earlier Monday, Barta told media members on a Zoom call that “anybody who is available to go on the 29th will be there in person. And we’ll get ready to play a good Missouri team.”

The Hawkeyes finished 6-2 in the pandemic-shortened regular season and were No. 15 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. They haven't practiced since Tuesday, when their Week 9 game against Michigan was canceled due to the Wolverines' COVID-19 issues. Iowa players were given the rest of the week off by Ferentz and returned to the team facility Monday for their first daily antigen tests in a week.

According to Big Ten protocols, a pause is required if the team's seven-day rolling average of confirmed positive tests crosses a 5% rate and the positivity of total football population (athletes, coaches, staff) crosses 7.5%. That latter half computes to 13 or more positives out of roughly 170 "Tier 1" individuals. However, if enough coaches and staff are able to return by the weekend, it's possible that Iowa could dip under the necessary total-population threshold to compete. It would be another discussion, though, whether proceeding with the game is the best thing to do for everyone involved.