University of Iowa president Sally Mason says she’s comfortable with the way the Hawkeye athletic department and football coach Kirk Ferentz have handled recent incidents involving players who’re run into trouble with the law.
"I’ve watched college athletics at a lot of places — Purdue, other Big Ten schools, other Big 12 schools where I’ve been either on the faculty or associated with them — this coach really takes this very seriously. Not every coach would take action as swiftly, as carefully, as sensitively with these young men this year," Mason says. "He’s as disappointed as the rest of us are in the behavior problems."
Since April of last year, over a dozen University of Iowa football players have faced criminal citations ranging from underage alcohol possession to drug charges. In early March, the coach dismissed two players from the team who’d been charged with possession of marijuana and about four dozen doses of prescription drugs. "If I, as president, have to intervene in this then I need a new athletic director and I feel very strongly that I have a very good person as the athletic director and I have a very good coach," Mason says. "It’s in their good hands for now. I watch it carefully. I will continue to watch it carefully and if I think for some reason there needs to be additional intervention I certainly won’t hesitate to do that, but not at this point."
The university may hire a life coach or mentor for the team. "A lot of individuals who’ve been associated with Hawkeye football over the years have stepped forward and said, ‘We want to help with this,’ so I think we’re heartened," Mason says. "…We’re going in a good direction, but time will tell."
According to Mason, in some cases football players have been told "all their lives" that they’re "special" and that creates problems on campus.
"They get to college and they see that the environment there is quite different from the environment in which they were literally raised in and sometimes behavior problems are not detectable until they get to college," Mason says. "…I know the coach has said that he thinks that you see sort of ebb and flow in these kinds of things happening and we happen to unfortunately to be in the part of the cycle where more is happening rather than less and we’re hoping to reinstate what I call the Hawkeye work ethic which is you come, you work hard and the rewards are to the team, not to the individuals."
Student athletes aren’t the only ones who’ve been caught engaging in bad behavior in Iowa City, but Mason says student athletes have to understand they’re living in a fish bowl. "People are going to pay close attention to your behavior and you’ve got to set a tone, be a role model, be a leader," she says, "and when the young men don’t live up to that there’s no one more disappointed than the coach, the athletic director and myself."
Mason made her comments during taping of the Iowa Public Television program, "Iowa Press," which airs Friday at 7:30 p.m.