Iowa Hawkeyes Football: Hospitals, Drugs and Dark Days in the Corn Belt

Stix Symmonds@@stixsymmondsCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2011

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Kirk Ferentz of the Iowa Hawkeyes stands in the tunnel before the Insight Bowl against the Missouri Tigers at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Iowa fans aren't used to this. They've suffered letdown seasons before on the field.  They've suffered an occasional bad attitude or two.  But they've never (in my memory) faced anything quite like this.

In the span of just one season, Iowa fans have seen their hopes go from sky-high to dismally low.  In the span of just one season, they've seen a normally "squeaky clean" program become the focus of the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. 

DJK, Adam Robinson and the Drug Culture

If you check out virtually any Iowa board or column, you'll read all about how the Hawkeyes came into the season as potential conference title contenders and possibly even as a dark horse in the national title race.  You'll read all about how those dreams flew out the window loss after so many heartbreaking losses. 

When the dust settled on a respectable (yet disappointing) 7-5 regular season, news broke that Iowa's all-time leading receiver, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was arrested in connection with a "drug house." 

As fellow Featured Columnist Kevin Trahan pointed out, the whole affair was blown out of proportion, thanks in large part to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.  In the end, the courts of law (you know, the ones who decide real guilt and innocence) decided his involvement wasn't what it was painted to be.

Just as Iowa was suiting up to take on Missouri in the Insight Bowl, normally-starting running back Adam Robinson was arrested in Des Moines for possession of marijuana.  Robinson was already serving a non-drug-related suspension at the time and was not with the team in Tempe, Arizona. 

Both Johnson-Koulianos and Robinson were released from the team following their arrests.  The University of Iowa wasted no time in making a clear statement that such behavior was not tolerated.

That didn't stop the rumors from swirling that the University of Iowa had a drug problem.

Kirk Ferentz was very clear that he was not naive in regard to the presence of drugs at the University of Iowa and on every campus across the nation.  They're there.  They've been there for a very long time and there's virtually no way to get rid of them.  They're a part of our society and that society bleeds onto campuses across the nation in both good and bad ways. 

The "Unlucky 13"

After mostly putting those two issues behind them, Iowa went out and defeated Missouri  27-24 to end the season at 8-5.  It was a relief, not only because Iowa was getting some good news, but also because they put the late-game-demons behind them and pulled out a close win for once.

However, the victory celebration had hardly subsided when more bad news struck the Iowa campus.  Following a grueling winter workout, 13 football players were hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions and tries to link the DJK and Adam Robinson deals with this development, test results showed that there were no illegal drugs to blame for this incident.

The most likely cause for the 13 to be hospitalized appears to be that they endured an incredibly strenuous workout after a three week layoff following their bowl game.  Basically, their bodies weren't prepared for what was thrown at them.

I blame that on the staff for not knowing the signs of an athlete in trouble.  I also blame them for expecting a little too much a little too soon.  But, that's just me.  I also wasn't there and we have to remember that while 13 were hospitalized, many more were not.  It's not really known (to us at any rate) why these 13 reacted the way they did while the others are apparently fine.

Wegher and Hampton Want Out

Long before all of the darkness settled on Iowa City, one of Iowa's three talented running backs, Brandon Wegher, left the team for "personal reasons."  What those personal reasons are belong solely to Mr. Wegher and are not the business of us fans. 

In December, word leaked that Wegher no longer wished to be a Hawkeye.  The young man who set an Iowa record with eight touchdowns as a true freshman decided to transfer to Oklahoma.  Unfortunately for him, according to Sporting News, the NCAA declared him ineligible.

There's no scandal here.  Wegher is just a big Sooners fan.  That doesn't change the fact that it hurts and that it still looks bad on Iowa that one of its rising stars would rather play somewhere else.

As for Jewel Hampton, his tenure at Iowa has been riddled with injuries.  Before the 2009 season even kicked off, the heir-apparent to Shonn Greene tore an ACL and missed the entire season.  He worked hard, recovered and returned for what was sure to be a breakout 2010 campaign.  However, barely three games into the new season, Hampton tore the ACL on the other knee and once again found himself cheerleading from the sidelines.

I suppose it could be said that Iowa has been bad luck for the sophomore tailback.

We don't really know (or I don't) why Hampton no longer wants to be a Hawkeye.  The statement that was released from Kirk Ferentz merely said that Jewel wanted to "transfer to another school to complete his degree and finish his career."  No reasons were given.

So, I have to wonder: why would two outstanding stars of the program decide to transfer out of the program?  As I already stated, Wegher's reasons are fairly clear.  Hampton's are not.  It's probably nothing to get excited over, but it does make me wonder.  What's going on?

Looking at the Big Picture

Taken one at a time, none of the issues facing Iowa are really all that big. 

Before you get your knickers in a twist, yes, it's a terrible, terrible thing that 13 players were hospitalized for any reason.  I don't blame the parents for being angry.  I don't blame those who question the competence of Iowa's strength and conditioning staff.  I may not agree with them, but I don't blame them.

I wouldn't blame any prospective recruit that changed their mind about having Iowa among their top choices.  Sure, plenty of other players have gone through the same workout without any problems, but obviously, not everyone can handle it the same way.

Certainly, that both Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Adam Robinson were arrested in connection with possession of marijuana is a bad deal.  They were high profile people.  Their actions reflect upon the University of Iowa. 

Brandon Wegher's transfer—while not in the same vein as the other issues at hand—is also a bad deal.  It's never good when a rising star no longer wants to associate themselves with the program.  Hampton's case is a little less obvious, but probably no more nefarious than Wegher's. 

Sure, all of these things are bad.  But at the same time, not a single one of them, on their own merit, is a damning indictment on the University of Iowa.  Marijuana is available and if any university thinks their campus is clean, they need a reality check. 

Winter workouts are grueling and sometimes players get pushed a little too far. 

Players transfer from one college to another all the time.  Big deal.

However, taken together, it does paint a disturbing picture.  The University of Iowa is going through some dark times.  In the span of just one season, the program has lost two talented running backs to transfer, lost another to a drug charge, had to disassociate itself from its all-time leading receiver, and had to deal with explaining why 13 players were sent to the hospital after a couple of scheduled workouts. 

What on earth is going on at Iowa? Has Kirk Ferentz completely lost control of this team? 

Or...just maybe...this is nothing more than some karmic joke.  Maybe, Iowa is simply suffering from really, really bad timing.  Would any of these stories have raised many eyebrows if they hadn't come one after the other? 

No doubt, the 13 hospitalized players would have still drawn national attention.  Something of that nature doesn't go unnoticed. 

The DJK scandal—which started the whole thing—would have gone down exactly the same way it did even if it hadn't been followed by so much other bad news.

However, the University wouldn't be facing the kind of scrutiny it's getting right now.  Not only are Iowa fans wondering "what next"; so is the rest of the nation.  Iowa is beginning to look a little like "Thug U".  It's squeaky clean image has been horribly tarnished. 

With all of these things coming in such short succession, I can't help but wonder if there isn't something going on behind the scenes that we don't know about.  Fans will continue to defend the institution, and well they should.  History has been very kind to the Hawkeyes. 

A quality history doesn't however, negate the fact that some very disturbing events have taken place in a very short amount of time.  Has a dark element entered the picture in Iowa City?  Has something, or someone, gotten their claws into the program and started messing around?

Or is this really just a case of bad timing? 

We may never really know.  Hopefully, all of these things will fade away and become a small part of our collective memories—a bad joke that we use as a reminder that a poor showing on the football field is nothing to get upset over when things like this could be lurking in the wings. 

Whatever is going on—or not going on—one thing is definitely certain.  The 2010 season—and everything that came after it—would very much like to be put in the rear view mirror for Hawkeye fans.  These are some very dark days at Iowa.


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