By John Bohnenkamp
Lisa Bluder thought it was a little unusual when she saw the Big Ten women’s basketball schedule before the season started, and noticed Iowa would be traveling to play at Maryland the day after Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C.
The Hawkeyes’ coach got concerned when rioters stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 in support of President Donald Trump.
And when she found out the Hawkeyes would have to moved from their hotel because it was filled with National Guard troops there to protect the inauguration of President Joe Biden, that was enough for her to make a decision for the Hawkeyes to stay away.
Iowa announced on Tuesday that the game against Maryland would be postponed for safety reasons.
“Am I being cautious? Yeah,” Bluder said on Wednesday. “I’m paid to play games, and I understand that. But I made this decision after much deliberation, and really with the health and safety of my student-athletes and staff in mind.
“As a mom, I asked myself if I would take my family in there now, and the answer is no. As the coach of these young women, my answer is the same.”
Maryland is ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll, and leads the Big Ten at 7-0 in conference play. The Terrapins are 11-1 overall. Iowa is 9-3 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten, after Monday’s home win over Purdue.
Bluder said she met with her players after hearing of the hotel change.
“They didn’t come to me, I went to them,” Bluder said. “I explained the situation. They watch the news, right? They are aware of what’s happening, politically, in our capital. It’s a pretty crazy time there right now.”
Bluder would not identify the hotel in which the Hawkeyes were originally planning on staying, saying it was 10 minutes from Maryland’s campus. But she said she was notified the team would have to move to a different hotel, one where more troops would be staying.
“Obviously, taking a group of young women into an area that’s being guarded by thousands of national armed guards is alarming,” Bluder said.
Maryland’s campus is 10 miles away from the Capitol, but that wasn’t enough to ease Bluder’s concern.
“Maryland assured us that we were a little bit away from Washington, D.C.,” Bluder’s said. “But when the National Guard is taking over your hotel, and thousands of troops, and people, are coming in to that area and staying in hotels and eating in restaurants and traveling, I just didn’t want to take my players, my young women, into that situation to be surrounded by not only the National Guard, but by all of the people coming there to demonstrate.”
Bluder said Maryland officials wanted to play the game.
“I understand that they’re living in this area and they feel perfectly safe,” she said. “But we’re the ones traveling, staying in hotels.
“We’re both disappointed. Maryland was doing everything they could to assure us it was a safe environment. But again, it’s my decision. People coming to that area were not people I wanted my family, my players, to be around.”
Bluder said she had talked with Iowa deputy director of athletics Barbara Burke about her decision.
“I knew that no matter what decision I made, I had full support from our administration. And I did,” Bluder said.
Bluder said she will work with Maryland on rescheduling the game if possible. If the game can’t be rescheduled, Bluder said, it will be declared a no-contest by the Big Ten.
Iowa now has three postponed games that will have to be rescheduled. The Hawkeyes have yet to reschedule a Dec. 19 game at Ohio State. Sunday’s game against Rutgers was postponed on Tuesday because of COVID-19 issues within the Scarlet Knights’ program.
Bluder said she understands if there is criticism of her decision.
“People may make light that I decided not to go,” she said. “I’d rather be cautious and safe than careless and regretful.
“Yes, I’m in charge of playing basketball games. But I’m also responsible for the health and safety and well-being for my athletes and my staff.”
Bluder said she received a photo from the manager of the hotel where the Hawkeyes would have been staying, taken in the lobby this morning.
“It really confirmed my decision why I didn’t go,” she said.
Photo: Iowa’s Sharon Goodman (second from right) celebrates with teammates during a timeout in Monday’s win over Purdue. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)