AMES — The Big 12 plays nine league football games. The Big Ten will join the nine-game party in 2016. Iowa needs seven home games annually to make ends meet. Iowa State prefers seven home games, too.
The in-state football programs, which renew their annual rivalry this week, are committed to one another through 2017. Some fans, largely from the Iowa side, suggest the schools should turn the series into a non-annual event once the contract expires in 2017. Both sides, however, are committed to the rivalry into perpetuity even if there’s no official extension.
But even if there was a chance the early-season rivalry could drift off the grid for a year or two, Iowa State running back Jeff Woody vehemently argued against that possibility, no matter the circumstances.
“This state has sort of the population that you have to have bragging rights,” Woody said. “There’s no validity to an argument of who’s better if they don’t play each other. So if you’re going to drop the football game, you’re going to have to drop the basketball game, you’re going to have to drop the entire series.
“Growing up in the state, without an Iowa-Iowa State every year, it would be the biggest, just, letdown that you could possibly have as a college football fan. To not have this game to talk about once it happens for six months and the rest of the six months what’s going to happen, I think it would be a huge mistake to drop the game.”
Iowa’s seven-game home policy likely will negate future home-and-home series against major conference opponents once the Big Ten’s nine-game schedule kicks in. On years when Iowa plays five Big Ten road games, it will need to play three home non-conference opponents. That includes Iowa State and probably two mid-major conference schools.
So would Iowa or Iowa State benefit from taking a break and playing games against other regional opponents? It won’t help from a television perspective, said Mike Mulvihill, senior vice president of programming at Fox Sports.
“In my mind there’s clearly more appeal when they play each other,” said Mulvihill, whose new network Fox Sports 1 airs the game at 5 p.m. Saturday. “I think we want to ride the back of those traditional rivalries as long as we can. Say it was Iowa State-Missouri — that’s not even reaching far enough — say it was Iowa-Georgia Tech, Iowa State-Pitt, even you could reach to a different region of the country, and maybe reach into a bigger market. I would prefer that we have the games that stir really passionate interest, even if it’s in a low population area. That’s why we’re doing Oregon-Oregon State. That’s why we’re doing Washington-Washington State. I think games like this are near the top of our list.
“While we’re very data-driven, and we tend to look at the numbers as deeply as we can, this is a case where you really don’t have to do a deep dive-in to the ratings to know that this is a game we want for FS1.”
Since Kirk Ferentz took over as head coach, Iowa has played six non-conference games that landed on ABC. Two were against Nebraska, which now is a fellow Big Ten member, two were against Iowa State (2005 and 2010) and one each against Arizona and Syracuse. Thirteen non-conference Iowa games were played on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 and four were against the Cyclones. Only twice were the games aired on regional-only television.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters in at the Big Ten Media Days event in Chicago that he “can’t envision (the Cy-Hawk series) ending in the near future.” Athletics Director Gary Barta told The Gazette two weeks ago that he and ISU Athletics Director Jamie Pollard have discussed extending the series beyond 2017.
When the Big Ten chose to implement a nine-game schedule in 2016, it allowed Iowa to play five league games at home the years it doesn’t host Iowa State.
“We see no reason why it wouldn’t continue,” Barta said.
The schools have played annually since the series was reborn in 1977 after a 43-year hiatus. Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads entertains no thoughts of not playing the series, saying “I think people in the state of Iowa would be up in arms if it went away.”
“You look at the reaction of people across the nation to the games that aren’t being played,” Rhoads said, hinting at realignment. “The Pitt-West Virginias, the Pitt-Penn States, Texas-Texas A&Ms and nobody is happy about that. The talk this past week, Michigan-Notre Dame not playing anymore. True, we’re a nine-game conference schedule now, and the Big Ten is going to it down the line … you’re going to see even as conferences are going to nine games, there’s going to be another opponent for leagues like ours on that schedule. It sure seems natural that we’d keep it in house and play instate to the benefit of everybody.”