More Iowa-Northern Illinois games...whee!

You were expecting Boise State?

Published: May 10 2013 | 12:39 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 3:11 pm in

I can't believe I'm going to publicly disagree with Bob Dylan, and it will never happen again. But his line in "Lay Lady Lay" was wrong. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

As I wrote recently, I'm in the camp for maintaining the Iowa-Iowa State football series when the Big Ten goes to a 9-game conference schedule in 2016. So, through their public statements, are Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and football coach Kirk Ferentz.

I wrote that it wasn't like Iowa would drop ISU, which happens to be a Big 12 program that has beaten Kirk Ferentz's Iowa teams more often than not, to schedule itself marquee college football names. That simply hasn't been the Hawkeyes' way of doing things. And, if you want to be honest about it, it isn't as if ABC/ESPN has been hot to have big nonconference matchups involving Iowa. The Hawkeyes aren't national needle-movers, at least not in 2013.

So came Friday's news broken by CBSsports.com's Jeremy Fowler that Iowa and Northern Illinois are about to do a deal to play games at Kinnick Stadium in 2018 and 2020.

No one's reaction in Iowa is "Hey, Orange Bowl program Northern Illinois!" It's "Oh, more games with a Mid-American Conference team."

Yes, Central Michigan won at Iowa last season. That was a credit to the Chippewas, but also an indictment of the Hawkeyes. It certainly doesn't make more games with MAC teams exciting prospects. But this season will be the 11th in Ferentz's 15 in which the Hawkeyes have hosted a MAC club, and two teams from that league came to Kinnick Stadium in 2001 and 2003.

Iowa will play seven home games a season, period, just like any other major-college program. It's a financial thing, and that's basically where the argument ends everywhere at schools in BCS conferences. You've got to have that seventh game. We're talking millions of dollars.

But that required seventh home game, especiallly in seasons in which they'll have five Big Ten road games, hamstrings the Hawkeyes scheduling-wise. No other Big Ten team has a locked-in nonconference rival except Purdue with Notre Dame.

Minnesota, for instance, doesn't have a built-in nonconference rival. So it's free to schedule a home-and-away with TCU. Which happens to be a Big 12 team, folks, and one Iowa State beat on the road. Plus, the Gophers have to schedule name-teams to be appealing in a professional market, at the risk of losing.

But Iowa's formula for 2016 and beyond is quite clear: Iowa State, a MAC team and another lower-level  team at home during seasons with four conference home games. Iowa State on the road and two MAC-type home games when Iowa has five Big Ten home games. Look for the Hawkeyes to offer invitations to teams that are currently transitioning or will transition to FBS and are seeking big paydays. Like Old Dominion, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.

The complaints that Iowa State is preventing Iowa from playing marquee teams down the road is valid only if you think the Hawkeyes would actually schedule marquee teams, and that marquee teams would actually schedule them. Since 2003, Iowa has played Arizona, Arizona State, Pittsburgh and Syracuse when it had the luxury of four nonconference games. But none of those matchups were anything resembling national games. By that, I mean few folks in Denver or Atlanta said "I need to watch this Arizona State-Iowa game today."

So, it's Iowa State, Northern Illinois and whomever in 2018 and 2020. It's Iowa State and whomever and whomever else in a lot of years to come. As of now, the whomever in 2018 is Northern Iowa, and will be unless the Big Ten's mission to drop FCS teams from its schedules becomes a hard-and-fast rule.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany understands the obvious, which is that the league needs better games to make more of a dent with television ratings, and to build strength-of-schedules for league teams trying to power their way into College Football Playoff.

But Iowa doesn't want to drop UNI. Barta said so Thursday. Naturally, he didn't pound home the real reasons, which are that it's a home gate and a victory.

I know, I know, I know. The 2009 game. UNI coulda won, shoulda won. But the Hawkeyes wouldn't  want to keep the Panthers on their schedule if they didn't believe it was a designated victory. That's no slight to UNI, which scared Wisconsin in Madison last season. But just on scholarship numbers and clout alone, Iowa should beat UNI every time they play. And it has every time they've met  in years that didn't start with "18."

I could note the hypocrisy of clinging to UNI in football while dropping the Panthers from the men's basketball schedule, but Patrick Vint of Black Heart Gold Pants already made the case, and I don't think I can improve on it. Vint wrote:

Men's basketball. When Iowa lost 80-60 at UNI in 2011 before a raucous crowd, it marked the sixth time in eleven seasons that the Hawkeyes had been defeated by the Panthers. Six of those games had been decided by 10 points or less. Northern Iowa basketball, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, had been to the NCAA Tournament five times since 2004 and famously defeated No. 1 seed Kansas en route to the Sweet Sixteen in 2010. A win over UNI in most seasons is a feather in Iowa's RPI cap on par with Iowa State or the middle tier of the Big Ten. And while fans of both teams fully expect an Iowa win in football and adjust accordingly, the Iowa-UNI basketball game brought out the best in fans; games in Cedar Falls were occasionally brutal. The arguments made by Barta Thursday in favor of the football series continuing actually apply to the basketball series.

So what did Barta do when the conference expanded its schedule from 16 to 18 games and Iowa's contract with UNI came to an end? He pulled the plug in favor of "greater schedule flexibility" that came in the form of the Big Four Classic and cupcake home games against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and South Carolina State. There were too many conference games and an Iowa State commitment, and more in-state games against challenging opponents were not required. His arguments for UNI applied, but the financial windfall of a cut of Big Four proceeds and an additional home game won out over his impeccable logic.

Everything is a cash grab. Everything. It's silly for Iowa to even pretend otherwise at any time.

I stand by keeping the Iowa-ISU game. A 9-game Big Ten schedule and the Iowa State game makes for a stronger schedule than the ones the Hawkeyes have usually been playing. We've seen Maine and Tennessee Tech and Eastern Illinois and Montana and Florida International and an array of MAC teams that didn't leave footprints in Kinnick (and a couple that did). There will be two of those per year in the future. That's just one-sixth of the schedule.

If Iowa is good, the other five-sixths of the schedule will be entertaining. If Iowa isn't good, the nonconference schedule will be the least of the program's concerns.
 
 

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