Only two Big Ten football programs are locked into playing a nonconference opponent every year.
One is Purdue, which has played Notre Dame every year since 1946 and is scheduled to do so through 2021.
The other is Iowa, and the opponent is Iowa State. There are reasons why no one else in the league has such a game.
Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin don’t have another FBS program within their states. Michigan and Michigan State are in the same state and conference, as are Indiana and Purdue, and Illinois and Northwestern. Ohio State and Penn State don’t really have serious state-rivals, as much as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh wish that weren’t so.
When Iowa has had an 8-game Big Ten schedule and 12-game overall slate, it had the flexibility to schedule another team from a BCS conference, and often did.
But the reality of what will happen in 2016 when the schedule tightens up with nine conference games has some wondering if the Iowa-ISU series should go the way of $2-a-gallon gas.
A 9-game league schedule leaves little scheduling wiggle room for Iowa, since the program virtually requires seven home games for financial stability. When Hawkeye fans hear about some of the juicy nonconference games ahead for other Big Ten teams, it may leave them envious.
But Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta and football coach Kirk Ferentz have expressed their desire for the series to continue. Ferentz said so once again on Monday’s “On Iowa Live,” and Barta has said it will continue uninterrupted.
Those in the drop-Iowa State camp suggest it would open up opportunities for Iowa to play name-schools from other BCS conferences. But the Hawkeyes have shown no inkling for doing that. In the 14-year Ferentz era, they have had home-and-away series with Arizona, Arizona State, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and have another with Pitt, starting next year.
Those are all legitimate programs from BCS leagues, but none was a game that created as much or more buzz than the ISU game.
Wisconsin opens its 2015 season by playing Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Television accepts that matchup. The Badgers have been going to Rose Bowls.
Michigan State will continue to play Notre Dame most years, and has a home-and-away with Alabama in 2016 and 2017. But MSU is in a state with the University of Michigan and pro sports of all sorts. It has little choice but to schedule up, to try to get attention in Detroit and throughout Michigan. Iowa doesn’t have that burden.
Besides, why would you consider halting the ISU-Iowa series if it wasn’t necessary? It’s a competitive series that engages the entire state. What more do you want? There’s no better option that is close to being realistic.
We complain about the trashing of tradition in college sports as conferences have expanded and schools have changed leagues. Great college rivalries like Kansas-Missouri, Texas-Texas A&M and Georgetown-Syracuse have been blunted.
That should never happen to Iowa-Iowa State. Especially since they finally created a Cy-Hawk Trophy that doesn’t make us scream in horror.