I live in Iowa City, and the big news for about a week has been the medical problems faced by thirteen members of the Hawkeye football program.  The players were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis, a disorder that is characterized by dark colored urine and can cause kidney problems in extreme cases (public service announcement – if your urine turns a strange color, see a doctor).  Not only were the players affected physically, but they were also taken out of the classroom for a week (after all, these student-athletes are expected to learn as well as play).

Blame has been cast in a number of directions.  Some suggested that the players had been taking drugs.  A parent of one of the affected players told the media that drug tests had been administered to the players and had come back negative.  Some suggested that a weekend after drinking may have exacerbated the effects of the workout.  Others have suggested that the strength and conditioning program itself is at fault (although some former players were quick to come to the defense of the staff).

The university announced that they will investigate the cause and report to the Board of Regents (which oversees the public universities in Iowa) within 90 days.  While I applaud this necessary step, I do wonder if it goes far enough.  As well intentioned as the investigation may be, there might be an inclination to absolve the university of any blame.

The way we should view this incident is as an opportunity to prevent future problems.  Some players have said that while the workouts were grueling, similar workouts had been done in previous years with no adverse affects.  While that may be true, the fact of the matter is that this year there were some extreme adverse effects.  If it were one or two players, I might be convinced that the players were at fault.  However, with about three dozen players participating at the workout that preceded the hospitalization of the players, this means that fully one third of the players were affected.  Something is contributing to the problem.  Perhaps a change in the supplements being taken by the players, or perhaps a seemingly small change to the workout routine.

It seems to me that the NCAA has a vested interest in this.  I’m not suggesting that they should investigate this incident with the goal of meting out punishment, but rather as a way to learn more about the causes of rhabdomyolysis.  Who better to serve as an independent body in the investigation?  Perhaps this is simply an isolated incident … but do we really want to take that risk?  I, for one, don’t want to see an outbreak of rhabdomyolysis at two schools next year and ten more schools the year after that.  Let’s nip it in the bud.