Regents launch investigation into football player hospitalizations


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The state Board of Regents has launched an investigation into the events that led to the hospitalization of 13 Iowa football players. Regent President David Miles and University of Iowa President Sally Mason agreed Thursday morning to a 90-day timeline for “completion of a root-cause analysis.”

Miles and Mason said in a joint statement that the incident was “cause for grave concern,” and the investigation would use independent medical experts. An analysis got underway shortly after the players were hospitalized, they said.

“Going forward, it is essential that we take the necessary steps to understand the factors that led to this to ensure that it never happens again,” Miles said.

Mason said the analysis’ primary aim will be to identify the cause of the incident and effective preventative measures.

“It is an essential responsibility of the university to determine what is likely to have caused this rare condition among so many young men at one time and to share those findings,” she said.

Once the investigation is completed, results will be presented to the regents. UI spokesman Tom Moore said it’s possible the investigation could be shorter than 90 days.

Twelve football players were admitted Monday night suffering from rhabdomyolysis — a muscle injury syndrome — following NCAA-permitted off-season workouts. A 13th student-athlete experiencing the same symptoms was admitted Tuesday evening. All continue to get treatment in the hospital and are in stable condition, Moore said.

Former offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said from what he has heard about the workouts, they included “nothing out of the ordinary,” based on both his experience and what he had heard from players before him.

Iowa began its winter workouts on Jan. 20, the first team activity since the Insight Bowl in December. Players including freshman linebacker Jim Poggi — one of the players hospitalized — complained of tremendous soreness in their muscles over the last weekend, which players had off from workouts. Poggi experienced continued soreness following Monday’s workout and produced brown urine, prompting Iowa trainers to refer him and others to UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Rhabdomyolysis is the release of muscle fiber contents into the bloodstream, and it can lead to kidney damage. Ellie Schlam of the National Kidney Foundation said rhabdomyolysis can occur with repeated muscle trauma or heavy exercise.

Dr. Jane Vernik of John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County said the syndrome is a “fairly common mild condition,” but not in athletes.

A 2004 report from Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan, said the syndrome’s most common causes are drug-related. Such drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.

Vandervelde, who said he visited his former teammates in the hospital Thursday, acknowledged a report — originally from Sporting News’ Dave Curtis — that the 13 players had underwent tests for illegal drug, which came back negative. Moore would not confirm if the drug tests occurred.

“That disturbed me more than anything,” Vandervelde said. “Just knowing those guys, those are not the kind of guys who do that sort of thing. The fact that that was the first conclusion that anyone jumped to, I don’t think it was fair to those guys to be quite honest with you.

“There’s no reason for that; you can wait until they’re out of the hospital.”

The former left guard said Hawkeye head strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle — who was hired to that position when head coach Kirk Ferentz took over in 1999 — is “very knowledgeable about how much the human body can handle.” Vandervelde also emphasized that Iowa promotes an open flow of communication “in the weight room.”

“Nobody wants to be that guy who goes and says he’s hurt, but it’s never discouraged,” Vandervelde said. “I’ve seen numerous guys, myself included, who have a hurt shoulder or a hurt knee or something. You can go to Coach Doyle and say, ‘Hey, this is really bothering me.’ He will adjust your workout accordingly.”

Vandervelde also echoed Hawkeye director of football operations Paul Federici’s Wednesday comments, saying that as a player you “know what’s coming when you get back, so you want to prepare yourself [for off-season workouts.]”

“The focus of Iowa football has always been improvement,” Vandervelde said. “They harp on it year round. Spring, summer, fall, winter, before games, after games, postseason, preseason. Everything is improvement-oriented.”

Because of privacy laws, Doyle could not meet with the media on Wednesday, but a source close to the team said that he and other coaches have visited the 13 student-athletes at UIHC often since they were hospitalized. Ferentz was out of town recruiting when players were admitted Monday but returned Wednesday night. Moore said Ferentz has had frequent contact with all players and their parents, and Mason is out of town.

In a June 2010 interview with ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg, Doyle said “strength coaches have more exposure to the players than anyone else on campus.”

“We want them to have a comfort level on the way in, and then I tell them it’s our job to make sure they’re uncomfortable for the next five years, because if they’re comfortable, they’re not progressing at a fast-enough rate,” he told Rittenberg.

Vandervelde acknowledged that communication was “certainly an issue” in the incident, but said he felt no one “needs to be slammed for” it.

“I’m looking at all the different sides of this, and I don’t think you can directly blame anybody,” he said. “You certainly can’t blame the players — they prepare themselves the best they could for the workouts. I don’t think you can blame the coaches for trying to make the players the best they can using a system that has produced results over the last 11, 12 years.”

Daily Iowan reporter Allie Wrightcontributed to this article.

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