AMES — Iowa State is a standard bearer in the Big 12 of how to properly mitigate COVID-19.
Iowa State’s football team hasn’t had a positive test in four weeks. The athletic department just tested all 631 student athletes and staff with zero positive tests. Dating back to tests from Sept. 11, Iowa State has had 833 negative tests and zero positive tests.
Iowa State football’s next opponent, TCU, had to postpone its first game due to COVID-19 and contact tracing. Other Big 12 teams like Kansas State and Texas had to shut down during the preseason.
The key to Iowa State’s magic formula isn’t a secret. All they’re doing is listening to the doctors, scientists and experts, and following their basic directions they’ve been offering since the beginning. And then holding themselves and their teammates to that standard.
“The challenge in college athletics is you're dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds,” coach Matt Campbell said. “We can't keep our kids in a hotel. We can't keep them in a bubble like the NBA. So, the reality has to be in the buy-in value of the 18- to 22-year-olds in your sport to say you, ‘You know what? I'm going to make great choices. I’m going to wear a mask if I have to go out in public. I may not go out to a restaurant. I may make great decisions and stay at home.’
“Those are all tough challenges and when you say there's great sacrifice to play the sport of football right now, there is. I mean, we're dealing with 125 kids in our football program that, you know, we're going on four weeks now where you haven't had a positive test and our kids continue to do a great job of making great sacrifices.”
For Iowa State, it starts with the seniors. They’re near the end of their college careers and Campbell has made sure the team understands that they can’t squander the seniors’ opportunity.
“I think the reality for us — from March until now — is we have had great leadership within our walls and our seniors to say, ‘Here's what we want to do. Here's what we want to accomplish,’” Campbell said. “And they have such respect from their teammates, that they have been able to really do a great job of creating a great bubble within our walls.”
If someone does fall out of line, they get straightened out quickly. Even if they don’t contract the virus, they are still putting the team’s ability to play in jeopardy.
“I would say the biggest thing with us is just holding each other accountable,” linebacker Mike Rose said. “I feel like if one teammate stays off or if there's an incident, a lot of our leaders and all of our teammates are on top of him to make better decisions.
“And another thing, too, that goes into that is probably trust. There's a lot of trust in our program and we've been lucky to not have a lot of situations where we've had to lose players.”
Iowa State has 125 players on its roster. A much smaller number will be making the trip to Fort Worth, Texas, to play TCU on Saturday.
What the true freshmen and the walk-ons are giving up to make sure their fellow teammates stay healthy isn’t going unnoticed by their coach.
“(Sacrificing) is hard,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of sacrifices you're willing to make to play a sport and then you remember there's only 11 guys playing on offense, defense and special teams on every play.
“I think your overall cultural buy-in has to be really really good if you're going to have the ability to sustain success in a season like this.”