Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands says beating Covid-19 has to be top priority right now

Tom Brands (right) motivates Iowa wrestler Austin DeSanto before a match.


By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Tom Brands had a teleconference with the media on Tuesday in which he addressed multiple topics for over 30 minutes.

Iowa's head wrestling coach hinted that there might be an appeal process about eligibility relief, and he addressed a report suggesting that the 2020 National Championships could be held in September.

He also talked about Spencer Lee winning the Hodge Trophy as the most dominant college wrestler, and about his disappointment with having the 2020 National Championships cancelled due to the spread of Covid-19.

But throughout the entire teleconference, Brands made one thing abundantly clear.

“When I talk about appeal process, I’m talking about where this Covid-19 thing is the battle that we’re fighting,” Brands said. “That’s the priority. That’s enemy number one. Let’s eradicate enemy number one, and then we can go forward. You don’t just ignore this stuff.”

As for the outside chance that the 2020 National Championships could be rescheduled for September, Brands seemed uncomfortable even addressing that topic under the current circumstances.

“We’re talking about September, we don’t know how long this thing is going to hang on,” Brands said of the Coronavirus, which has now killed over 3,500 people in the United States, and over 30,000 worldwide. “The experts seem to think maybe another month we’ll be over the hump, or two. But nobody knows, and the uncertainty of it, probably I would say that I would be reckless talking about it.

“I know that we can handle it. I know our guys could get ready for it. That’s not an issue. The issue is keeping the perspective on what the battle is right now. So that’s where I’m at with all that future competition stuff.”

That is exactly where Brands should be at this point because containing Covid-19 is priority number one, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Brands’ life has been consumed by wrestling for over 40 years, but right now his life has been turned upside down by something that is completely out of his control.

Brands still communicates with his wrestlers one-on-one in order to provide encouragement and guidance, and his message is always the same.

“The message has to be about going forward,” Brands said. “It sucks. This team was robbed of history. Spencer Lee was robbed of history. Pat Lugo, who’s a senior, was robbed of history. We had three number one seeds and nine guys in the top eight, and we had another guy seeded eleventh.

“They were robbed of history and they were robbed of an opportunity. And there’s going to be a lot ahead. And you don’t know what’s coming around the corner. So you have to keep some perspective.”

There is speculation from medical experts that as many as 100,000 to 200,000 people in the United States alone could die from this highly contagious virus.

Brands shared something sobering with the media on Tuesday in that he recently was exposed to Covid-19 and is currently in self-quarantine.

He feels horrible for his wrestlers who lost the opportunity to compete for a national title in which they were heavily favored to win for the first time in a decade.

But Brands also understands that the current medical crisis is more important than wrestling. And that was his message throughout the teleconference.

“It is bigger than sports right now," Brands said. "We’re not of the woods with Covid-19. So there’s time to fight these battles and there’s time to let’s get rid of Covid-19. Let’s do that first.”

Even during this time of social distancing, and with the University of Iowa campus basically in lock down, Brands and his assistant coaches still are addressing the future as best they can."

Iowa recently received a verbal commitment from Fort Dodge native Drake Ayala, who is the fourth known commitment in Iowa’s 2021 recruiting class. Ayala picked Iowa over Ohio State and projects at 125 pounds in college.

“We still are working on the future,” Brands said. “We got a commitment not too long ago. Iowa wrestling is still strong. We just clobbered upside the head by something we can’t control. So this thing that we can’t control has altered our course, and so we take the steps that we can control now. And that’s how you do it, and it really is that frank, and it really is that simple.”

Brands said his wrestlers still can be productive and build for the future even under these surreal circumstances. 

“They have opportunities to stay healthy," Brands said. "There’s a lot of ways to build an edge and keep moving forward the right way and to be safe. And you can still be safe and socially responsible. It’s not ideal because it’s not familiar. It’s not ideal because it’s not what they necessarily want. They want to be in their domain, in their sanctuary, in their comfort zone and the things that they’re used to.”