Officials: Rhabdo scare should be national wake-up call

BY ARIANA WITT | MARCH 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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AMES— A strenuous workout that sent 13 Hawkeye football players to the hospital earlier this year indicates athletics officials should do more to prevent athletes from pushing themselves to the point of injury, a committee that investigated the incident said on Wednesday.

The incident that caused the athletes to develop rhabdomyolysis after a January practice should also serve as a national example to other programs, the five-person group said while presenting their findings to the state Board of Regents.

“This is clearly a wake-up call,” said N. William Hines, a University of Iowa law professor and dean emeritus who was the chair of the presidential committee. “And not only for the spring-training program at Iowa but for the entire country. Every spring trainer is going to be hypersensitive to these kinds of issues.”

The committee said the illness was likely caused by a particularly strenuous squat workout. But besides the national implications — officials said this was likely the most comprehensive study into the issue to date — the committee made recommendations for the UI program.

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And a major focus was on improving communication between players, trainers, and coaches.

“I think the consideration of communication with players and their families is going to be paramount with them going on from here,” said UI professor and head of Health and Human Physiology, Kevin Kregel, a member of the committee.

Regent President David Miles said he’d like to know specifically how trainers and players would deal with the moment an athlete truly felt they couldn’t continue a workout.

“It’s going to be very difficult for athletes to say, ‘I can’t do that,’ because they’re competing as well, and they want to perform their best,” Miles said.

Athletics Director Gary Barta said officials will do more to address that situation, adding he takes full responsibility for the communication breakdowns — both inside and outside the football program.

“We have to figure out a way to get the students to respond,” he said. “You can still be a tough guy — a competitor — and not put yourself in harm’s way. It’s our job to get the players to know what are those signs that show you’ve gone too far.”

The university was widely criticized for the way it handled communication in the wake of the hospitalizations, and Barta acknowledged officials may have deserved some of the criticism, though maintained he believed they did a good job.

The presidential committee was appointed by UI President Sally Mason on Feb. 4 and comprised faculty and administrators. No one from the athletics department participated in the review. Mason said budgetary constraints prevented the university from hiring an outside consultant.

“I’m very pleased with the work that’s been done here,” she said. “I didn’t want this to linger in the minds of the public for very long.”

Hines said the committee was unable to find a definitive cause to the hospitalizations, but it concluded there were at least three contributing factors.

One was the three-week lay-off between the time the players left Arizona after the Insight Bowl to the time they reported back to campus, Kregel said.

During this time, muscles were likely de-trained and thus susceptible to damage.

Second, the athletes were performing 50 percent of what they had determined to be their maximum capacity level for training, and after a three-week break put them below their normal fitness level.

Last, the 100 expected squats can cause considerable muscle damage.

Officials found no fault among Hawkeye coaches, trainers, or the team physician.

Barta said he was pleased Mason’s investigation matched the finding of an internal report by the athletic department.

But Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz said he would have liked to find an answer to the incident.

“To me, it would have been great,” he said during a press conference before the team’s first day of spring training. “It’s like anything. If your hand hurts, it’s nice to find out what exactly caused it.”

Regent Robert Downer said he would like additional information and felt there were areas the committee could still investigate, particularly when to call in a doctor to examine players for potential injuries.

“It seems to me from reading the report, that this was not done early enough, given the rare nature of this particular incident,” he said.

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