Rhabdo report bodes well for Iowa program

Iowa's internal investigation into the January hospitalization of 13 football players with rhabdomyolysis brought mostly good news for Kirk Ferentz and the football program.

The full rhabdo report will be released very shortly -- university president Sally Mason is revealing it at a Board of Regents meeting Wednesday -- but the Des Moines Register obtained the findings from a five-member investigative committee.

The key points:

  • The committee determined a strenuous squat-lifting workout the players did on Jan. 20 in all likelihood caused the rhabdo outbreak. Players were "in no way responsible for their own injuries," and their rhabdomyolysis isn't linked to use of drugs (illegal, prescription or over-the-counter) and supplements.

  • The strength and conditioning coaches didn't conduct the workout to punish players or threaten players if they didn't successfully complete the sessions. Strength coaches referenced the close losses during the 2010 season and said the workouts would determine "who wants to be here."

  • The committee affirmed the need for Iowa to discontinue the workout -- Ferentz already said it no longer will be used -- and pointed out that while the team successfully went through the same drills twice (June 2004 and December 2007), this case was different because the workout took place after a three-week break from athletic activities.

  • Players' parents interviewed by the investigators complained about poor communication from the football coaches. Parents "interpreted the fact that the head coach did not return immediately to campus as a lack of concern on his part for the affected players. Some parents expressed anger and distrust as a result of this event and suggested that some of the coaches should have been suspended until the investigation was complete."

  • The committee recommended testing for all players when a few develop symptoms from a workout and finding better ways to determine potential complications from specific workouts.

  • The report stressed the need for improved communication between players, strength coaches, athletic trainers and doctors. It details several instances of players having discolored urine -- a primary symptom of rhabdo -- but not informing any trainers. The initial rhabdo diagnosis came only after a staff member found a player to have high blood pressure.

I'll get back to the communication element, but the report bodes well for Iowa's program. The confirmation of no drug/supplement use is important, and the investigators didn't find major wrongdoing by head strength coach Chris Doyle or his staff. The criticism from players' parents is significant and underscores the poor communication that took place throughout the process. It remains to be seen whether any legal action will be taken against the program.

We'll hear more from Ferentz later today as Iowa kicks off spring ball, but assistant coach Eric Johnson said last month that all the players hospitalized with rhabdo should be ready for practice.

The big issue going forward is who has final say on what workouts the team goes through and when. If my son played football for Iowa, I'd feel more comfortable if an athletic trainer or a doctor signed off on a specific workout than a strength coach. That's not a knock on Doyle or his staff, but many programs have it structured where the chief athletic trainer must approve strenuous workouts like this one before players go through them. From talking to several folks in the training world, I doubt a workout like this would have been approved given the layoff that preceded it.