Posted by Adam Jacobi
In the wake of the outbreak of rhabdomyolysis that sent now 13 Iowa players to the hospital (another was admitted today), fans have understandably been looking for more answers from the university than just "'safe and stable' with an undisclosed illness." To that end, the university athletic department held a press conference late this afternoon to address the situation.
Except, head coach Kirk Ferentz wasn't there; he was still getting back into town from his recruiting trip. And athletic director Gary Barta wasn't there; he presumably had better things to do. No Iowa football coaches were there at all, including strength and condiitioning coach Chris Doyle or any of his asistants. In fact, the only three people at the press conference were director of football operations Paul Federici, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics kidney specialist John Stokes, and freshman linebacker Jim Poggi's father, Biff Poggi.
What ensued, at least for the first part of the the conference, was another exercise in stonewalling and excessive privacy from Iowa. While we can't expect Stokes or Federici to address the players' identities and conditions -- that would be a direct violation of not only the trust of players and their families, but federal HIPPA laws about patient privacy as well -- we can certainly expect more than Federici's abject refusal to admit any knowledge of any particulars about the offseason workouts other than what days they took place. Again, he's the director of football operations at Iowa. Does Federici -- who was a former head of training at Iowa before moving into his administrative role -- seriously have no personal knowledge of what happens during these offseason workouts? Is that even remotely acceptable?
In fact, Biff Poggi went into more detail about the workouts and the conditions of the players than both Stokes and Federici ever did, as the latter two hid behind lack of personal knowledge and an unusually broad interpretation of the HIPPA laws. Obviously, when Jim Poggi started posting (since-deleted) details of his hospitalization on Facebook, that expectation of privacy went out the window and Biff Poggi was allowed to address his son's condition. Poggi also addressed the prevailing mood of the hospitalized players, saying "they want to get back and start playing."
While it's obviously disconcerting that neither Barta nor Ferentz were at the press conference, it's also naive to believe that either would have said, well, anything substantial or above what Federici would have said -- namely, that the workouts happened on specific days and that they were within NCAA regulations. Anyone who believes otherwise has a very short memory, considering the dearth of specifics that came from the last press conference Iowa held. That was just last month, as Derrell Johnson-Koulianos had been arrested the week prior and rumors had been flying about potential drug use on the team. That day, it was 60% an overview of Iowa's drug testing, 35% of hectoring the Internet, and 5% of new information; the ratio would likely have been similar today.
It's like this far too often at Iowa. Whenever something bad happens, communication from the athletic department is so insufficient that it creates a vacuum of information, and speculation from outside sources fills that vacuum every single time. That's not an Iowa-only phenomenon, it's how PR works. To have 12 (eventually 13) players admitted to a hospital at once with a similar medical issue (and make no mistake, the Iowa trainers clearly had a very good idea of what that issue was when they referred the players to the hospital, to say nothing of by the time that press release had been sent the next day) and expect the matter to be resolved with "no further comment" is at best irresponsible behavior for an athletic department. At worst, it's incompetent and borderline exploitative.
And it's just par for the course for Iowa.