Iowa Republican leaders join President Trump in trying to pressure the Big 10 into resuming fall football season

Photo by Alan Light via Flickr

The Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature sent a letter to Big 10 Commissioner Kevin Warren, asking him to restore the conference’s fall football system, which was canceled due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

“Just last month, under your leadership, the Big Ten released updated and enhanced testing, quarantine and isolation policies,” Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives Pat Grassley and Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said in the letter written under the official Iowa House of Representatives letterhead. “Our coaches and players should be given the chance to make them work.”

The letter was also signed by seven elected officials from other Midwestern states, as well as a state representative from Pennsylvania. All of the politicians who signed the letter are Republicans.

The politicians said they were writing after hearing from “many concerned students, parents and coaches.”

Groups of parents from Big 10 schools have protested the cancellation of the fall season since it was announced last month. On Aug. 19, Warren responded to criticism from such groups with an open letter.

“While several factors contributed to the decision to postpone the 2020-21 fall sports season, at the core of our decision was the knowledge that there was too much medical uncertainty and too many unknown health risks regarding SARS-CoV-2 infection and its impact on our student-athletes,” Warren wrote.

The commissioner listed three “primary factors” that led to the decision not to play football this fall.

• Transmission rates continue to rise at an alarming rate with little indication from medical experts that our campuses, communities or country could gain control of the spread of the virus prior to the start of competition…

• There is simply too much we do not know about the virus, recovery from infection, and longer-term effects. While the data on cardiomyopathy is preliminary and incomplete, the uncertain risk was unacceptable at this time.

• Concerns surrounding contact tracing still exist, including the inability to social distance in contact sports pursuant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. While risk mitigation processes (e.g., physical distancing, face coverings, proper hygiene, etc.) can be implemented across campus for the student body population, it became clear those processes could not be fully implemented in contact sports.

According to a report in The Athletic, by the time the Big 10 canceled its fall season, at least 10 players in the conference had been diagnosed with myocarditis, a relatively rare heart condition that has been associated with COVID-19.

In their letter, Grassley and Whitver said they were concerned that Big 10 student athletes will be “less marketable” because only the Big 10 and Pac 10 among the major college football conferences have so far canceled their fall seasons.

“These athletes are losing a vital part of student life and are becoming less marketable to their future employers with each passing week,” they wrote. The lawmakers added, “our universities stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars that support vital student scholarships.”

In his open letter, Warren wrote, “Financial considerations did not influence the COP/C decision, as the postponement will have enormous adverse financial implications. We understand the passion of the many student-athletes and their families who were disappointed by the decision, but also know there are many who have a great deal of concern and anxiety regarding the pandemic.”

Grassley and Whitver aren’t the only Iowa officials who have come out in opposition to the cancellation of the Big 10 fall football season. UI President Bruce Harreld was one of three Big 10 school leaders to vote against cancellation.

The two Iowa Republican said in their letter that universities will be able to handle any complications from the spread of COVID-19, because “this region is home to some of the world’s leading institutions of higher learning, scientific research and medicine.”

President Donald Trump has also repeatedly declared that college football should be played this fall.

On Sept. 1, Trump tweeted that he had had a “very productive conversation” with Commissioner Warren “about immediately starting up Big 10 football.”

The conference released a statement about the conversation following Trump’s tweet, saying it was working “to help student-athletes get back to playing the sports they love, at the appropriate time, in the safest and healthiest way possible.” There was no mention of an immediate resumption.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted about the Big 10 again, suggesting that a version of the Big 10 that excludes teams from Illinois, Michigan and Maryland might be on the verge of announcing a fall season.

After Trump’s Sunday tweet, the Detroit Free Press reported there is no basis to believe that the Big 10 will reverse it decision about fall football, or create some sort of rump league that will play.

“Laughable,” one [university official with knowledge of Big 10 deliberations] told the Free Press on condition of anonymity.

“(Expletive) no,” another said.

On Tuesday, the UI Athletics announced that 21 student athletes or staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 during the previous week. The positive cases made up 7.1 percent of the 297 tests the department conducted between Aug. 31 and Sept. 6.

In Johnson County overall, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported on Wednesday another 49 county residents were confirmed as having COVID-19 during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. IDPH’s official 14-day average positivity rate for the county’s COVID-19 tests was 20.4 percent.

Statewide, IDPH reported another 478 cases of COVID-19 between 10 a.m. on Tuesday and 10 a.m. on Wednesday, including 25 cases in Linn County. The department also reported another 12 deaths from the virus, bringing the state’s death toll from the virus to 1,185.

In addition to disclosing its latest COVID-19 test results, UI Athletics made two other announcements on Tuesday.

First, the department said its athletes had resumed both voluntary and mandatory workouts. Workouts had been suspended after 93 of the department’s 815 COVID-19 tests between Aug. 24 and 30 were positive. That 11.4 percent positivity rate was highest the department had recorded since it began testing students and staff on May 29, the Daily Iowan reported.

UI Athletics also announced that all non-contracted employees, except for senior staff, will be required to take 15 unpaid furlough days before Dec. 31. Senior non-contract staff won’t be required to take a half-a-month of unpaid leave, but will instead have their base salaries cut by 5 percent.

The department also said it would cut or not fill 40 positions due to budget cuts.

“With the Big Ten Conference’s postponement of fall competition on August 11, UI Athletics now projects lost revenue of approximately $100M and an overall deficit between $60-75M this fiscal year,” UI President Harreld and Director of Athletics Gary Barta said in a written statement on Aug. 21. “A loss of this magnitude will take years to overcome.”

The statement from Harreld and Barta was issued when UI announced it was eliminating men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis.

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