(NOTE: This is part of the sixth chapter in a multi-part series on how the Big Ten Conference divided into two football divisions)
IOWA CITY — The new-look Big Ten put Iowa and Nebraska on the fast track toward rivalry status.
When the league unveiled its 2011 schedule last September, newcomer Nebraska was slated to finish the regular season against Iowa, its only border competitor. Athletic directors at both schools petitioned the Big Ten to move the game to the Friday after Thanksgiving, and that desire was granted for 2011 and 2012.
Nebraska previously played rival Oklahoma and later Colorado on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne hopes the Iowa-Nebraska game continues that tradition.
“It now gives us a nationally televised game on a day when there are few or any other games,” Osborne said. “So I hope that it would work out that we continue to play that game on that date.”
The schedule calls for Saturday games in 2013 and 2014, but those dates can be changed pending mutual agreement. Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta wants to see how the fans respond to the move before permanently committing to a Friday date. Nevertheless, he’s excited about Iowa ending its season against Nebraska for the next four years.
“I was thrilled with the fact that we were going to be playing Nebraska on that last weekend,” Barta said. “Later on when we made the move to Friday, it’s new for us — it’s new for our fans — so we’ll have to get used to that. But I like the fact that we’ll be on national television on ABC and around that Thanksgiving weekend. It will be a showcase opportunity for both universities.”
Nebraska will host Iowa on Nov. 25, 2011. The Hawkeyes host Nebraska on Nov. 23, 2012. The schools compete in the Legends Division and there’s a chance the game’s outcome could determine the division title.
“Based on the connection between the two states, based on the fact that I can already feel excitement surrounding the game and based on past history with the game and very passionate fan bases on both sides, I think it has potential to be a great rivalry,” Barta said.
The game has Big Ten officials excited as well.
"We’re looking forward to it," said Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television adminitration. "I can’t imagine that Iowa-Nebraska game on the Friday after Thanksgiving. That’s huge."
There’s the potential for Nebraska to play some of its former Big 12 competitors in future non-conference games. In fact, Osborne welcomes it — once the emotion subsides.
“I think initially there’s maybe a little bit feeling on the part of some athletic directors that, ‘They left us, we don’t want to schedule them,’” Osborne said. “I think there’s a number of athletic directors that would appreciate the chance to play. Of course with Iowa State or Kansas or Kansas State, we’re talking about a bus ride. So that proximity is attractive. It does cut down travel time, and we’re not just talking football; we’re talking all sports. I think we are going to play a basketball game or two this year against some Big 12 schools. I’m sure we’ll play probably end up playing baseball or other sports as well.”
Nebraska hopes to reignite a two-year series with rival Oklahoma in 2020 and 2021. It would serve in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the 1971 epic clash many christen as “Game of the Century.” The Big Ten proposal for a ninth league game could stall hopes for that series.“What I’ve told (Athletic Director) Joe Castiglione down at Oklahoma, we’ve got to figure what’s the schedule going to be,” Osborne said. “If it’s going to be eight games, we probably won’t have any problem. If it’s a nine-game year, and it’s a year where we only have four home games, then we schedule an away game at Oklahoma, we’ve got a problem. We may be short of 7 home games, which I think most everybody in the Big Ten wants to have at least seven home games.”