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CBSSports.com National Columnist

No explanation reasonable when workout puts 13 in hospital

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Thirteen Iowa football players were in the hospital this week after a workout. That cannot be explained away. It cannot be accepted. It cannot be excused.

It cannot be allowed.

One Iowa football player in the hospital after a hard workout? That's unfortunate, but it happens. It's a fluke. One Iowa player goes to the hospital, and you hope the young man is OK, and you ask his coach and trainer what happened, and you move on. You trust that whatever happened -- whatever unexpected events conspired to put an otherwise healthy young man in the hospital -- won't be repeated. But you move on.

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Two Iowa players in the hospital? That's unfortunate, and it shouldn't happen. It suggests something bigger than a fluke.

Thirteen Iowa players in the hospital?

Thirteen?

That's terrifying. Someone loses his job over this, and probably more than one person. This was not a fluke, something unforeseeable. Don't confuse "unforeseen" with "unforeseeable." Major difference in those words.

"Unforeseen" means nobody saw it coming. "Unforeseeable" means nobody could have seen it coming. Big difference, because when 13 college football players -- trained athletes accustomed to intense workouts -- are pushed to the point of hospitalization, well, someone should have been able to see that coming.

Is that someone me? No. Of course not. I wouldn't know the difference between a grueling offseason workout that makes a player strong, and a too-grueling offseason workout that sends 13 players to the hospital.

Whoever was behind the workouts Monday at Iowa -- whoever devised them, whoever approved them, whoever stood there and implemented them -- didn't know, or recognize, the difference either. And that's a major problem, because that workout didn't simply pick off the lowest-hanging fruit of the Iowa football team. This wasn't one or two stragglers who let themselves go in the month after the 2010 season ended and paid the price by being unable to keep up with the rest of the team.

Someone at Iowa, perhaps even coach Kirk Ferentz, needs to take responsibility for what happened. (AP)  
Someone at Iowa, perhaps even coach Kirk Ferentz, needs to take responsibility for what happened. (AP)  
This was the rest of the team. Thirteen players in the hospital? That's not a piece of low-hanging fruit. That's the whole damn fruit tree.

Whatever happened Monday, it was so awful that it broke down the inner workings of 13 college athletes. The reported affliction is exertional rhabdomyolysis, which is a condition caused by overexertion.

Listen, exertion is fine with me. So is overexertion. I spar with professional fighters for fun, for God's sake. My nose has been broken twice, and both times I kept sparring through the blood because overexertion can be fun. Don't confuse this column with weakness, with a demand that college coaches stop working out their poor little football players.

By all means, players should want to be worked out in the offseason, and coaches should want it to pay dividends. Exert them. Push them to the brink -- but only if the people doing the pushing are good enough to know where the brink is.

Someone at Iowa wasn't good enough. And we have 13 Iowa players in the hospital to prove it.

Exertional rhabdomyolysis happens when the body is pushed so far -- often in an offseason setting when players aren't in peak condition -- that muscle begins breaking down and entering the bloodstream. This is not a minor issue. It can lead to kidney failure, because while the human kidney was designed to filter a good many things, an excess of muscular tissue isn't one of them. Kidney failure can lead to death.

Luckily, that didn't happen at Iowa. Disgustingly, Iowa put out a pair of statements Tuesday night that essentially hid behind that fact. In one statement, athletic director Gary Barta noted that the school's "No. 1 concern is the safety of our student-athletes, so we are pleased with the positive feedback. Our next step is to find out what happened so we can avoid this happening in the future."

A short time later, Iowa sent out the most self-serving addendum imaginable. Here's what Iowa wanted to make clear with its second press release:

"The Hawkeye football players admitted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics were all participating in NCAA allowable winter workouts. The symptoms, for which the student-athletes are being treated, are likely related to those workouts."

You catch that? Iowa is letting you know that this was allowed. And technically speaking, yes it was. College football players are allowed to work out -- to be worked out -- two hours a day, four days a week, in the offseason. And that's fine with me.

College players are not allowed to be worked out so hard that 13 of them -- enough to field a starting defense, plus two -- are in the hospital.

Barta also noted that coach Kirk Ferentz was on the road recruiting and "is aware of the situation and being kept abreast of the progress being made." I'm going to give Ferentz the benefit of the doubt and assume that he returned to Iowa the second he learned that 13 of the young men under his care were in the hospital. If he stayed on the road to recruit rather than returning to Iowa, mothers and fathers should pull their sons out of his program -- and Ferentz should be fired.

Maybe Ferentz should be fired either way. Unless this entire episode can be chalked up to a tainted supplement -- the life raft Iowa fans seem to be clinging to -- someone has to be fired. Trainer, assistant coach, head coach. Someone. Maybe all of them. What happened at Iowa on Monday crossed the line that separates unforeseen from unforeseeable.

This was no fluke. This was grotesque. And this was negligence.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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