Rhabdo report clears Hawkeye coaches, players of wrongdoing

BY SAM LANE | MARCH 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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A five-member committee of University of Iowa faculty and staff members was unable to pinpoint what caused more than a dozen Hawkeye football players to be hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis earlier this year.

The committee placed most of the blame on an intense squat-lift exercise in January that seriously injured the players' muscles and likely caused their hospitalization, according to a report to be presented to the state Board of Regents today and obtained by the Des Moines Register.

UI President Sally Mason will present the committee's findings and recommendations during the regents' meeting in Ames today.

UIofficials would not comment on the report on Tuesday and spokesman Tom Moore said a copy of could not be provided to The Daily Iowan before today's meeting.

One of the recommendations is that the football program abandon the squat-lifting exercise that led to the injuries, but one ex-Hawkeye decried the advice in an interview with the DI on Tuesday night.

"Personally, I think it's silly," said former Hawkeye offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde. "I've been through it, I know lots of guys that have been through it more than once, and this is the first time anything like this has happened."

The report also said 67 percent of players reported unusual stiffness and soreness following the Jan. 20 workout, the first after winter break. The workout included barbell snatches, pull-ups, dumbbell rows, and a weighted sled-pushing exercise, according to the Register.

"The combination of a three-week layoff from supervised workouts, the percent of their body weight lifted by certain players, and the high number of repetitions required in this workout were required in this workout were primarily responsible for most of the rhabdo cases," the committee wrote in the executive summary of the 18-page report.

The Jan. 20 workout included an exercise in which players squatted half their maximum weight 100 times as quickly as possible.

Ferentz said similar workouts had been completed three other times during his tenure — in December 2000, June 2004, and December 2007.

"It's about every three to four years, and probably our thinking is we want everybody somewhere during his career to go through a challenge like that," he said at a Feb. 3 press conference.

Medical tests confirmed none of the injured players took any substances that contributed to their conditions, the report said.

"That's exactly what I knew they were going to find," Vandervelde said. "That's not going to happen to be quite frank. Guys using drugs, illegal stuff of that nature, if you're putting yourself in that position, you don't belong at Iowa to begin with."

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 told the DI earlier this year that rhabdomyolysis can occur with repeated muscle trauma or heavy exercise.

Other suggestions in the report included conducting tests on whole teams if individuals athletes are affected by a workout and developing a plan for dealing with similar incidents.

Vandervelde said he agreed with the report's criticism of the communication with the injured players, their parents, their teammates and the public during the incident.

The report also suggested the football program educate its players and staff about rhabdo and similar conditions that develop from strenuous workouts.

"Just like with concussions, we're well-educated on the symptoms of concussions, so if we think we have one we can go to the trainers with it," Vandervelde said. "I feel like to not do this workout again just because some guys had rhabdo — that's like a couple guys get concussions, so we shouldn't have padded practice anymore."

Mason and Regent President David Miles launched the investigation in January after the hospitalizations, calling the incident "cause for grave concern."

"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 on Jan. 27.

Documents obtained through public records requests following the incident showed top UI communications officials disagreed on how the university should respond to media inquiries about the players. Officials said they were re-evaluating their communication strategies during high-profile incidents.

"The one thing I've asked my people to do is to do a better job of communicating across the various units that have their own communication efforts," UI President Sally Mason told the DI in February.

At a February Faculty Senate meeting, Athletics Director Gary Barta said the media and public reacted too quickly to the hospitalizations.

"I feel we're a society of immediate reaction," he said, calling the time around the hospitalizations a "difficult period to go through."

Barta and head football coach Kirk Ferentz were also criticized for their absence during the incident itself.

"I would suggest that perhaps my appearance that day, presence that day, could have provided a calming influence," Ferentz said at a Feb. 3 press conference. "I may have underestimated that."

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