IOWA CITY, Iowa — It has been 77 days since the University of Iowa came to a relative standstill while its men’s basketball team was preparing for a Big Ten Tournament game in Indianapolis.
Nearly every day since, Gary Barta, Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Director of Athletics Chair at the University of Iowa, has fielded “what if” questions.
Will there be football in 2020? Will there be a full football season? Will the season begin Sept. 5 against Northern Iowa, as originally scheduled? Will fans be allowed inside Kinnick Stadium?
Basing all decisions on the health and safety of all constituencies, Barta said, “If anybody tells you they know the answers to all these questions surrounding football, then they are probably selling you positivity and they are mostly guessing.”
Barta met Thursday with media on an hour-long Zoom news conference, saying there are several reasons to feel positive steps are being taken in the battle against the coronavirus that has gripped the nation since March.
Perhaps the most encouraging news was when Barta spoke about the number of fans inside Kinnick Stadium on game day.
“We’re preparing to allow as many Hawkeye fans that want to come back the ability to come back,” he said.
Last year at this time, the University of Iowa had sold 48,000 season tickets for football. As of May 28, Barta said they are at 75 percent of that level.
As for tailgating, Barta said it would continue, with undisclosed modifications. He said meetings have already begun on campus dealing with the management of football game day.
“I know how important tailgating is and how important it is to our experience,” Barta said. “I can comfortably say there will be tailgating, I’m not ready to say how that is going to work.”
The month of June will provide initial answers. The Iowa Athletics Department is part of a pilot program that will allow student-athletes and essential staff to return to campus beginning with football June 8. Men’s and women’s basketball will follow June 15, then other sports will gradually phase in.
Barta likes the fact that when student-athletes are in Iowa City, the university can control and monitor safety within its facilities.
“These are voluntary workouts,” he said. “That is a key component.”
Barta has not received messages of safety concerns from student-athletes or parents. He added that if a student-athlete decides not to return to the particular program because of an uneasiness of the coronavirus pandemic, that student-athlete would not lose his/her scholarship.
Still, risks remain.
“As long as the virus is here and until a vaccine is created, there will be risks,” Barta said. “No matter what we do, we cannot eliminate risk. We will work to mitigate it and people will have to make that choice.”
As for the 2020 University of Iowa Athletics Department budget, Barta knows revenue will be down and he anticipates a “seven figure shortfall.” He said a hiring and spending freeze will go into effect, as well as operating and compensation reductions.
“Our staff has been amazing helping us identify how we’re going to put together next year’s budget, knowing that it is going to be a shared sacrifice,” Barta said.
In personnel news, Barta praised the career of Pam Finke, who retired this year after serving several years as assistant athletics director, ticket operations. She will be replaced by Jess Rickertsen.
“Pam Finke was customer service to the nth degree,” Barta said. “The bullpen was well-stocked (with Rickertsen).”