IOWA CITY - The last several days the Iowa football program was beginning to take on the look of a Shakespearian tragedy.
Turns out it was: Much Ado About Nothing.
All those rumors we had been hearing for days turned out to have about as much substance as the Hawkeyes' pass defense in the final 5 minutes of some games this season.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta dealt with all of it in a Tuesday morning news conference that included very little news. There are no additional player suspensions, no more arrests, no cover-up.
Everything is just hunky-dory in Iowa City.
Or at least as hunky as things can be when you're headed into a bowl game against a clearly superior team on the wings of a three-game losing streak without your leading rusher and career receiving leader.
Depending on what wild Internet scuttlebutt you believed in the past few days, the Hawkeyes either had 23 players who had failed drug tests or they were going to suspend 11 players for the Dec. 28 Insight Bowl or Ferentz was going to be forced to resign for taking part in a cover-up of the whole mess.
It was enough to get several dozen reporters and 14 TV cameras into a small auditorium in the football complex for what turned into a nearly hour-long infomercial for the athletic program's drug-testing procedures.
Ferentz said he doesn't look at Internet message boards, but he used words such as "alarming" and "ridiculous" to describe the information that has been disseminated on them since career receiving leader Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was arrested for possession of multiple controlled substances and allegedly running a "drug house."
Barta said he and Ferentz began hearing from parents of players who were being asked about the rumors. The Iowa program meticulously shields its players from the media and Ferentz said he doesn't think reporters should be allowed to speak to parents either.
In any case, they were disturbed enough by the questions that they felt compelled to provide some answers.
- Aside from Johnson-Koulianos, the only other player who has been suspended is running back Adam Robinson and that is for lack of effort in the classroom rather than anything related to drug use.
- All the other Iowa players are practicing and are expected to travel to Arizona for the Insight Bowl.
- Running back Jewel Hampton's transfer out of the Iowa program was a "mutual" decision, reached during a Sunday conversation between the player and Ferentz.
- Iowa has not ramped up its drug-testing in the wake of the Johnson-Koulianos arrest although 10 players were in the process of being tested as Iowa City police were slapping the cuffs on the senior receiver.
- Ferentz had no clue before this that Johnson-Koulianos had a drug problem or that he was living with a convicted felon. (He said he might consider doing background checks in the future on the roommates and girlfriends of players.)
Much of the session was spent detailing and extolling the virtues of Iowa's own drug-testing procedures, which Barta said go above and beyond what is mandated by the NCAA and the Big Ten. He did concede that there was evidence to suggest that some athletes might have found ways to circumvent the tests in the past. He would not say how.
The session was good for several reasons. It definitely cleared the air. It absolved Robinson from any implied connection with the Johnson-Koulianos arrest. It probably eased the fears of some Iowa fans.
But it mostly was spin control.
The athletic department just happened to release positive information on its graduation rates on Tuesday. Probably just a coincidence.
It was a noble effort to put a happy face on a program that has prompted most of its followers to grimace for much of the past two months.
Chances are, the only thing that might really do that would be a victory over Missouri.
What Kirk Ferentz and Gary Barta said
Excerpts from the news conference with Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta on Tuesday:
Q. Are any more Iowa football players likely to be suspended?
BARTA: We don't have any more, nor do we anticipate any more.
FERENTZ: That's really one of the reasons we got together today. Learned of some phone calls that were placed to some of our parents, some of the alarming content, just ridiculous questions they were asked. I'm not a huge fan of the social networks, but so much misinformation out there. I have no idea what's out there other than the feedback I got from maybe some parents. Seemed like it was time to address this.
Q. Is Jewel Hampton leaving by his choice?
FERENTZ: It was a mutual decision.
Q. Have there been any drug tests since Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' arrest?
BARTA: We drug test just about every week. So the answer is for all sports, yes, there have been additional tests since last week. But not out of the ordinary, meaning this is something we do every week. We didn't ramp up a new drug testing program since last week.
Q. Were any of them football players?
FERENTZ: A little bit ironic. We were testing 10 people at the time of the arrest.
Q. What was your initial reaction to the news about Derrell? Was it shock, anger, disappointment?
FERENTZ: If any player is arrested, particularly in this case with the charges that were brought, "shock'' is a strong word. I think I got over that about 20 years ago. Disappointment is obviously a big part of the equation. I'll leave it at that.
Q. Do you expect Adam Robinson back after the bowl game?
FERENTZ: That's a personal conversation. But my anticipation is he'll be back here in January.
Q. How do you not know that Derrell is living with a drug dealer? How much policing can you do of that?
FERENTZ: Where does it start and where does it end? That's a question I'd ask you. It hasn't been our policy in 12 years now. Maybe we should change it. We don't do background checks on roommates, girlfriends. It's a pretty wide circle of friends that our players have. I don't know how you would track down, chase each and every one of them. And that was certainly news to me, what I read in the newspaper ... I'm not sure how you'd know that. Maybe that's something we need to do, do background checks on roommates that are not on the team. That we'll consider.
Q. With Derrell, it's hard to imagine he didn't have a group of friends on the team who might have been engaging in the same behavior. Have you found that that is the case?
FERENTZ: No. To answer your question, no. But I don't know what his behaviors were, quite frankly, other than what I read in the papers.
Q. Did drugs cause an issue in the locker room?
FERENTZ: I would have no idea. Not to my knowledge, but I would have no idea.
Q. Did you have any idea before his arrest that Derrell had any kind of a drug problem whatsoever?
FERENTZ: No, I didn't.
Q. Do you think Derrell and Jewel were divisive figures on this team?
FERENTZ: Not to my knowledge. If they were, we would have done something about that. Jewel has been pretty much out of the equation now for six, seven, eight weeks, somewhere in that ballpark. He's basically been rehabbing.
Q. Do you think the reputation of this program has been damaged?
FERENTZ: I can't answer that. I know we've been diligent with what we do on a daily basis. In this case right now, we're talking about one player that had legal issues. Beyond that, that's where it is.
BARTA: For today, it's no fun to stand up here and talk about a challenge that we're dealing with. Overall, I think people know what we stand for over the long haul.
Q. Have you had conversations with the Iowa City Police Department to know what happened with Derrell?
FERENTZ: They were kind enough to come to me and let me know what was taking place last Tuesday. Ironically we were testing at that very moment when they were here, I believe it was while the arrest was taking place. So at least my first knowledge wasn't a news report. It was two officers just letting me know it was taking place.
Q. When did you realize and decide with the misinformation out there that this needed to take place, that you needed to come and talk to us?
BARTA: Initially our intent was just to release like we normally would. As the day went on, we were both getting feedback there was a lot more being said out there. When you take into account what happened last week, everything between then and now, you take into account what was starting to sound like it was just all sorts of things being said on the social networks, maybe beyond that, we just decided "Let's sit down and have a conversation.'' There's some limit to what we can say, but talk about as much as we could.
Q. Kirk, do you get a sense that when you had that meeting (with the team) last Thursday any of your players knew what was going on with Derrell, what he was doing in his private life?
FERENTZ: My guess is some did. I don't know. If that's the case, it's unfortunate nobody came forward. But, you know, I don't know.
Drug testing basics
Iowa wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, left, will be the only player suspended for the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28 against Missouri for a drug-related issue, but the arrest prompted officials to double-check the drug testing protocols and procedures. Iowa has been doing its own drug testing over and above what is required by the NCAA and the Big Ten since 1988. Some of the basics:
- Athletic director Gary Barta said the university has about 700 student-athletes, and it conducted between 800 and 900 drug tests during the past year. Football coach Kirk Ferentz said 92 of his players were drug tested during this season, 27 by outside entities and 65 by the university.
- The NCAA and Big Ten test primarily for performance-enhancing substances. Iowa's own tests also include various street drugs, including alcohol and marijuana.
- The tests are done periodically throughout the year and are completely random. Dr. Del Miller, who oversees the testing, said test coordinators go to team practices or meetings and pull out selected athletes to be tested.
- The first time an athlete tests positive, he or she is subject to assessment and counseling but not necessarily suspension. A suspension is mandatory on subsequent offenses.