IOWA CITY — Iowa’s annual rivalry with Wisconsin became one of the most-discussed topics this summer during Big Ten realignment meetings, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.
Nebraska joins the Big Ten in 2011, and league officials chose to divide the league based on competitive equity over a 17-year period rather than split the league geographically like the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences. Over that time frame, Wisconsin ranked fifth in winning percentage, and Iowa was sixth, leaving the rivalry vulnerable to an easy split.
“Lots of discussion. Probably the most-discussed (topic),” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “I think that we knew once we committed to the principle of competitive equality that it was going to be really difficult to not separate Michigan from Ohio State and Penn State from Nebraska. Likewise, it was difficult not to separate Iowa and Wisconsin.
“We were driven by the principle of competitive equality. We were driven by the principle of maintaining as many of the important rivalries as we could. But we also recognized in the west we were going to have some problems. It was debated and advocated and argued over. We went into those meetings together, we went out together but in between there was a lot of debate.”
No. 13 Iowa and No. 10 Wisconsin, which play Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, will compete in opposite divisions in 2011. Iowa leads the all-time series 42-41-2, and the schools will have played 72 of the last 74 years. Because of realignment, the schools won’t play in 2011 or 2012, but Delany said it’s likely they will in 2013 and 2014.
When Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, Wisconsin-Iowa rotated off each other’s schedule for the first time since 1936. That prompted the league to adjust its scheduling policy to include two protected rivalries for each school.
So when it appeared Iowa and Wisconsin would compete in opposite divisions without playing annually, it became an issue. Both Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez and Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta advocated for keeping the rivalry in some fashion. Barta told league officials he wanted to compete against Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin each year, while Alvarez spoke in favor of two protected rivalries.
“It seemed like it was fairly early on that it looked like we’d be on opposite sides,” Barta said after realignment was announced in September. “But even at that point we didn’t really know that we might not be playing each other until recently.”
“It never looked like it was going to be a fit,” Alvarez, a former Iowa assistant, told The Capital Times. “If there was any possible that we could have protected Iowa we would have tried to get it done, and Gary felt the same way.”
Fan bases for both schools voiced their displeasure over the potential cut. In a summer poll on www.thegazette.com, more than 48 percent of voters picked Wisconsin as the rivalry Iowa should preserve at all costs, over Minnesota and Iowa State. After realignment was announced, a majority of voters on www.madison.com picked “I’d rather have Iowa as an annual foe” as their initial reaction.
Some fans in letters, phone calls and e-mails to media and school officials complained that neither Barta nor Alvarez fought to keep the annual rivalry. Delany said that notion is preposterous.
“When people say, ‘Well, so and so didn’t argue well enough,’ I think it’s great when they realize you’re talking about great competitors,” Delany said. “If you don’t think they are arguing hard, you probably misjudge who is representing you.”
Coaches for both schools, even in the one-track mindset of the football season, also noticed the rivalry change.
“It’s going to be strange, there’s no doubt about it,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “When they had all this stuff going on, the only thing that looked certain was that there was no way to make everybody happy. So everything is going to be different and feel different and my guess is it might take a couple of years for everybody to get into a groove for a little bit.”
“Not only do we not get to play Iowa every year – there’s a protected game against Minnesota – but there’s four other games that we won’t get to play,” said Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema, a former Iowa team captain and Ferentz assistant. “I guess I always try to focus on what’s in front of us. It’s going to happen. It’s not every year, but I’m sure when it does happen, Iowa and Wisconsin fans will rile it up and have a good time with it.”