Kirk Ferentz dreads hearing the “bing.”
It’s never been something the Iowa football coach wanted to hear — that sound from his phone with the notification of a text message from someone on his team’s training staff.
That kind of message means someone is hurt.
These days, it might also mean someone has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Injuries are never good, but they affect one player. A COVID-19 positive test takes out that player, and anyone who comes into contact with him.
Any positive test will require a player to sit out 21 days under the Big Ten’s safety protocols. That would mean a player misses three games in the nine-game sprint that is the Big Ten season in 2020.
So, when Ferentz hears, as he put it on Tuesday, the “bing” on his phone, he’s afraid to look.
“I don’t look forward to those,” he said, “because you just don’t know what is going to be on there.”
Iowa has had its share of positive COVID-19 tests — the exact number for each program isn’t released by the athletic department — but has been fortunate to not have the same kinds of issues other programs around the nation have had.
Wisconsin has canceled games in back-to-back weeks. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm missed his team’s season opener against the Hawkeyes. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is missing his second consecutive game this weekend.
“I think certainly you look across the straight border here (at Wisconsin) and it’s a good reminder, constant reminder that this thing is just day-to-day right now,” Ferentz said. “I think we have all known that really since March if not sooner. It’s very real. It’s apparently not going away. I’ve told our team, just figure it’s going to be this way until January. You take it day-by-day. Don’t assume anything. You know, just hope for the best. Try to be as smart as you can but you know, there’s nothing you can do to be 100 percent insulated from this thing, I don’t think. We all have to keep living but we have to try to be smart.”
The coaches and players undergo daily testing and screening, a tedious process they have learned to accept.
“It gets routine after a while,” defensive end Zach VanValkenburg said on Wednesday. “Obviously, you always have (the potential of a positive test) in the back of your mind. You can’t dwell on that.”
“At first it was a little weird, but it started to become routine,” safety Dane Belton said. “You have to do a COVID test every day, so it became routine. … It’s not too bad.”
Ferentz, speaking on Election Day, pointed out how he heard about “voter stress” and then he equated it to what he called “COVID stress.”
“There’s definitely … it’s taken on a whole new element,” he said.
It’s also something the Hawkeyes deal with on game days, with the number of fans just limited to families of players and coaches. Iowa played in front of approximately 1,100 fans in last Saturday’s 21-20 loss to Northwestern, more than 65,000 less than Kinnick Stadium’s capacity.
It was similar to the crowd Iowa faced in the season-opening 24-20 loss at Purdue.
“It’s just smart to know going into it, but it is going to be what it is, pretty quiet, and just like, you know, if we were going into a hostile environment, you obviously want to be prepared for that.,” Ferentz said. “This year (playing on the road) won’t be as big a factor and hopefully it’s the last year we ever have to talk about that.”
“You’re used to an electric Kinnick,” center Tyler Linderbaum said. “Fans everywhere. You just didn’t get that. But that’s what this year has been like, and you just have to adjust to it.”
Adjusting means getting through this season with the least amount of problems. So far, the Hawkeyes have done that.
“It’s a concern, certainly, knowing that something could happen at any time,” Ferentz said. “Just look at any of the pro teams that are playing in the pro leagues, and then certainly in college football, it’s very real, too.
“There is just nothing about this year that’s going to be normal, that’s for sure.”
John Bohnenkamp is a national award-winning sports reporter and contributor to the Pen City Current.
Kirk Ferentz dreads hearing the “bing.”