IOWA CITY — Iowa baseball hasn’t finished atop the Big Ten regular-season standings since 1990, and the Hawkeyes are tied with Northwestern for the lowest winning percentage in league tournament history.
Every Big Ten baseball program but Northwestern boasts a newer stadium than Iowa’s Duane Banks Field. Every Big Ten public-school baseball coach made more money than former coach Jack Dahm in 2012.
Iowa’s baseball tradition is as unforgiving as the recent spring, which kept the program from practicing outside all but five times this season. Just twice since 1996, the Hawkeyes have earned winning seasons. Their revenues were the second-lowest among the Big Ten public schools in 2012, and Iowa’s expenses were third from the bottom, according to public records disclosed to The Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act.
Dahm was released as Iowa’s coach Thursday, and the Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta will conduct a national search for his replacement. While Dahm won less than 44 percent in 10 seasons, there are many reasons for the program’s lack of success, such as facilities.
“From an arms race, from a facilities standpoint, every program has built a brand-new stadium or done major renovations to their stadium except for us and Northwestern,” said Dahm, whose contract was not renewed for next season.
“Iowa’s made a ton of progress with facilities. However the No. 1 thing with baseball/softball is you need to be able to hit at any time. It just hasn’t gotten done here.”
In inclement weather, especially this March and April, the baseball program had nowhere to go. Multiple sports now use the new indoor football facility but football program claims precedence during spring practice. There are four batting cages inside the building, but baseball often was shut out.
“Not many Division I baseball programs don’t have indoor batting cages that they can use at any time,” Dahm said.
Duane Banks Field was built in 1974, and the surface was replaced in 2010. Lights were added in 2002, but most improvements have been cosmetic. Since 2002, seven Big Ten baseball programs have either new or refurbished stadiums costing a minimum of $4 million. Ohio State’s $4.7 million stadium was built in 1996 (and renovated in 2011), and Illinois’ 1988 stadium twice has seen major upgrades.
Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta plans to close the gap between Iowa and its Big Ten competitors. In 2015, a $15 million indoor multipurpose facility with FieldTurf will open near the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex. The university’s band will use the building in the fall, and both the baseball and softball teams will have access in the winter and spring.
Barta will unveil a strategic plan this fall with plans to build an Olympic sports village on the west campus. It’s likely to have new stadiums for Iowa’s baseball, softball and track teams.
“It’s the chicken and the egg discussion,” Barta said. “We’ll be talking to people about it. But at this point we don’t have the funding for it. So it’s not something that’s imminent in the next couple of years, but it’s something that certainly we’re thinking about over the next 5-10 years.”
But Barta believes the baseball program’s current facilities are good enough to compete among the Big Ten’s best right now.
“I certainly don’t think we’re positioned to be in the College World Series on an annual basis,” Barta said. “But being in the top half of the Big Ten is something that I know we should expect and missing it once in a while might be OK. If we’re in the top half of the Big Ten, and we’re in the tournament every year, it gives us a chance when everything comes together to compete for a championship.”
Until, then Barta wants the new coach to generate interest. Iowa boasts the state’s only Division I baseball program, and said “it’s a good environment” for the sport to succeed.
“We need Duane Banks Field to be alive again,” Barta said. “There’s been some apathy, and that’s all of our responsibility, not just the head coach’s. When you take all of that into account, what we need to be competitive, we certainly want to raise the bar to shoot even higher; that’s where we’re at. I’m very confident we can compete with what we have right now and keep working at adding to that.”
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