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Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz: Criticism over handling of QB C.J. Beathard 'offensive'

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday defended himself against allegations from former ESPN and ABC analyst Ed Cunningham that Ferentz had endangered the health of quarterback C.J. Beathard in the 2017 Outback Bowl.

Cunningham, part of ABC's broadcast crew for the game, spoke out about Iowa's treatment of Beathard in several interviews. He told ESPN's Mike and Mike on Friday that after seeing Beathard hobbling during the game, "I wanted to go get in a fistfight with the coaches over it because they abused that kid, flat-out."

Beathard sustained a hamstring injury during the game but remained on the field until the final minutes of Iowa's 30-3 loss to Florida.

Cunningham, who played offensive line in college and in the NFL, resigned from broadcasting in April after almost 20 years. He told the New York Times last week he was uncomfortable promoting a sport that produced so many serious injuries for players.

In a statement released through the school, Ferentz said the health and safety of Iowa's players is his top priority and that he defers to Iowa's medical staff in determining whether players can participate in games and remain on the field. Ferentz also referenced his three sons who played college football, one of whom, Brian, is the team's offensive coordinator.

"Comments made by a retiring sports broadcaster about the coaching staff subjecting a player to possible long-term health-related issues because we allowed him to play in the Outback Bowl were surprising and offensive to our coaching staff, the player and his parents," Ferentz said. "We do not allow a student-athlete to play unless he is medically cleared -- that is my commitment to the players and their parents."

"Our medical people aren't going to let a player get out there at risk, where he can really do harm," Ferentz added at a news conference Tuesday. "They have final say, they always have, always will, and I listen to them and then we work with players. You as a coach make the judgment if a player's allowed to play, been ruled eligible to play medically, then you make the judgment, can he play? Can he operate?

"And I listen to the players, too. C.J. wanted to be out there, so that was my decision."

A source close to the team told ESPN that Beathard had several soft-tissue injuries during the game but remained medically cleared and wanted to stay on the field because it was his final game for Iowa. Beathard, the grandson of former NFL executive Bobby Beathard, enters the 2017 season as the San Francisco 49ers' backup quarterback.

C.J. Beathard's father, Casey, also issued a statement through Iowa defending the school's handling of C.J.'s injuries throughout his time at the school.

"We had absolute confidence in Coach Ferentz, his coaching staff and the medical team to make player safety an uncompromising priority on game day, on the practice field and in the weight room," Casey Beathard said.