Hlas column: Hawkeyes' top two VIPs were MIA Wednesday

Mike Hlas
Published: January 26 2011 | 7:12 pm - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 10:30 am in
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IOWA CITY — It’s pretty easy to go all judge-and-jury here. This situation involving 13 Iowa football players hospitalized with an unusual muscle disorder, this is disturbing stuff that can stir up emotions.

Somebody’s to blame, right? Is it a strength coach who perhaps pushed players from the edge to beyond it during an off-season workout last Thursday? Is it someone responsible for the players maybe ingesting something that triggered rhabdomyolysis when combined with the effects of the workout?

Is it the players themselves for taking something they shouldn’t have, or pushing themselves over the edge? Or is it something altogether different?

I don’t know, you don’t know, and it doesn’t sound like University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics physicians yet know based on what Dr. John Stokes told us at Wednesday’s press conference on the subject. Maybe the hospitalized players know. Maybe they don’t.

What we do know is this is bad. And, that it’s fortunate this didn’t turn out a lot worse than it did from a health standpoint.

From a public relations angle, this is a nightmare. On two fronts.

One, no matter the cause, having 13 players from a team — any team — in the hospital after a workout is unimaginable. When has it ever happened in college or professional sports?

To then learn it wasn’t something like a rampant virus or an especially horrific case of food poisoning, but instead a breakdown of muscle fibers that are harmful to kidneys? Whoa.

Two, things went from bad enough to worse Wednesday when neither Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta or head coach Kirk Ferentz were present at that press conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Barta was out of town on Wednesday. He will be in the Fort Myers-Naples, Fla. area through at least Friday. An annual University of Iowa Athletic Association fundraising golf event is in Naples on Friday.  He couldn’t have adjusted his travel plans? Really?

“He made the best decision he could make based on what he needs to do,” said Iowa senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer, who didn’t flinch from taking questions herself after the press conference.

But still ... really?

Ferentz, meanwhile, was in Cleveland to reportedly meet with Glenville High School Coach Ted Ginn about possible future recruits. The night before, he was in Strongsville, Ohio, to visit with a high school tight end who has verbally committed to the Hawkeyes.

Ferentz couldn’t have adjusted his travel plans, or the press conference in Iowa City couldn’t have waited another day? Really?

How much light could or would Barta and Ferentz actually have shed on the matter? Maybe little. Probably little, in fact. So what?

They’re the two main men of Hawkeye sports, the leader of the athletic department and the boss of all things football. Unless they have their own family crises, when 13 of their athletes are in a hospital, they have to be the faces and voices that are out front.

Also absent at Wednesday’s presser was Chris Doyle, the football program’s head strength and conditioning coach.

Over the years, many Hawkeye players have portrayed Doyle as instrumental in their development as players and athletes. He clearly holds a position of great stature in the football program, with a salary of $309,230 in fiscal year 2010 that was topped only by that of Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe among football staffers.

With the head coach and position coaches not allowed to be part of off-season workouts in the winter and summer, Doyle leads those sessions. That is his world, his domain.

The vast majority of us don’t know what is required to make a group of athletes physically equipped for the rigors of Big Ten football. It wouldn’t hurt anyone if he told us some time in the future.

Maybe someone will eventually put forth an explanation about all this rhabdomyolysis that is understandable and lets everyone move forward without fear or blame. Again, the judge-and-jury thing isn’t helpful right now when possibilities are plentiful.

What’s paramount now, of course, is getting those 13 young men healthy again and figuring how why this happened and how it can be prevented from happening again.

This is serious, serious stuff. Players suffered intense pain, and kidneys are nothing anyone can ever afford to put at risk. Somehow, something went badly haywire.

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