IOWA CITY — A 10-game Big Ten football schedule has the potential to disrupt the annual Iowa-Iowa State football series.
Iowa, like most high-major football programs, prefers to play seven home games each year to help fund the athletics department. Iowa earns about $2.8 million per home date. A 10-game Big Ten schedule would prevent Iowa from hosting seven games annually and playing at Iowa State every-other year.
“One of the things I like about Iowa-Iowa State is that it’s a competitive college rivalry,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta told The Gazette on Wednesday. “It’s good for the state, and it’s good for college football. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue that. That’s high on the list in terms of goals for me. At this point, nothing that I’ve heard is forcing a conversation otherwise.”
Big Ten officials and school administrators met Sunday and Monday at league headquarters and discussed boosting the league schedule from eight games to either nine or 10 in the future. While the final number won’t be set until later this spring or early summer, Barta said “it’s pretty likely, if not a foregone conclusion, that we’re not going to be playing eight conference games.”
“One of the challenges of going to 10 would be if you’re ever in a scenario where you didn’t have seven home games,” Barta said. “How would we deal with that? That’s a significant amount of money to each of our bottom lines, having a seventh home game. It also has a big impact economically on the local economies. So, again, I don’t know exactly where we’ll end up, but we had a lot of discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of having nine or 10.
“Having seven (home) games is high on my list in terms of importance. I’m not going to spend too much time or angst thinking about nine or 10 specifically to my schedule until I know one way or the other which way we’re going.”
Iowa and Iowa State have a football contract through 2017 and both schools have an opt-out clause should either league expand its schedule. The Big 12 added a ninth game in 2011, but Iowa State was able to sync its league schedule to maintain its regular dates with Iowa.
In August 2011, the Big Ten announced it also would go to nine league games beginning in 2017. Like the Big 12, the Big Ten gave Iowa a preferential sync to keep its schedule with Iowa State but the Big Ten dropped that proposal in December 2011.
Iowa and Iowa State have played annually since 1977, and the series is sponsored by Iowa Corn.
“I like playing the Iowa-Iowa State series and everything indicates I’d want to continue that,” Barta said.
The Big Ten’s realignment discussions should help Iowa reignite border rivalries with Wisconsin and Illinois on a regular basis. Geography is a primary tenet in the 2014 divisional setup when Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten. Iowa and Illinois have not played since 2008. The Hawkeyes had faced Wisconsin 72 times over a 74-year time period from 1937 through 2010 until the league split into the Legends and Leaders divisions in 2011. The schools had not played the last two years.
“If it’s possible, we’d like to have a stronger connection to our geography,” Barta said. “Let’s use Wisconsin as an example. (Wisconsin Athletics Director) Barry (Alvarez) and I both had each other on our preferred list in the last go-around. In order to make things work, that series on an annual basis wasn’t able to happen.
“We think with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland we can come close if not get there in terms of accomplishing (geography and competitiveness), including dividing East to West. So it definitely feels like we’re a long way toward accomplishing that. In terms of breaking down which schools might end up where, again, nothing was finalized.”
Alvarez told listeners Tuesday on his monthly radio show that Michigan State officials were making a push to join a western division consisting of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois. Geographically, Purdue is the next most-western school. Barta declined to reveal which schools were discussed for each division.
Barta added that the schools have weighed several options regarding cross-divisional match-ups, ranging from a each school protecting an annual game to not designating any rivalries. There’s also the possibility of just protecting just one cross-divisional rivalry, like Michigan-Michigan State or Indiana-Purdue, and rotating the others.
“It was certainly talked about, whether we would have any crossovers, some crossovers or just go completely round-robin as long as it took to play all teams,” Barta said.