(NOTE: This story ran in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the Iowa-Iowa State series renewal in 2007)
IOWA CITY — Forget, if you will, today’s pomp and the yellow puffy fingers, the bands, Iowa State’s throwback jerseys and the Big Ten Network.
Close your eyes — if you’re old enough to remember — and recall autumn Saturdays when Iowa State didn’t play Iowa. No real stadium at Iowa State. An annual losing skid at Kinnick Stadium. The Wing-T and yellow helmets. Nothing — usually — to play for but pride.
One of life’s most repeated cliches is that people who forget the past are somehow doomed to repeat it. When Iowa and Iowa State’s football contract expires after 2010 (according to Iowa) or 2020 (according to Iowa State), the rivalry may fade away. Or not. Call this a crossroads year, one when the past intersects with the future. The present matters very little.
Now, open your eyes. It’s the mid-1960s.
Turbulence shakes every university. Iowa and Iowa State had not played an annual football game since 1934, and pressure mounts on the schools to resume the rivalry.
“The Legislature and major legislators were pushing to have the game, and I recall the presidents of the two schools were being told, ‘If you don’t get something worked out, it’s possible the Legislature could take action,’ ” said Warren Madden, Iowa State’s vice president for business and finance. Madden has served on Iowa State’s Athletics Council since 1966.
“There was a great deal of public pressure to have this game.”
In 1968, Iowa Athletics Director Forest Evashevski and Iowa State Athletics Director Clay Stapleton agreed to a somewhat secretive six-year contract to renew the series in 1977. Iowa’s Board in Control of Athletics (now the Presidential Committee on Athletics) had agreed to only a two-year series and was unaware of the additional four years. When Evashevski left Iowa in 1970, he kept the contract unsigned and on the desk of successor Bump Elliott. Instead of accepting the deal, Elliott voided the contract.
“Bump didn’t want to play them, nor did the athletic board,” recalled George Wine, Iowa’s former sports information director. “They thought it was a mistake. You know the old story, we’ve got nothing to win and nothing to gain. So the contracts were unsigned, and we said we weren’t going to play them, so the Legislature got involved.”
Legislative involvement became more saber-rattling and rhetoric rather than actual policy making. Gov. Robert Ray then invited Elliott and Iowa State Athletics Director Lou McCullough to talk about the contract.
“That’s not something that the governor would generally be involved in,” Ray said. “Several people talked to me about me being an independent mediator to bring the parties together.”
Ray recalled the athletics directors shaking hands in his office after a long discussion. Iowa’s Board of Regents hired an arbitrator, and the schools’ representatives met at the Newton Inn, about halfway between the schools.
“(The arbitrator) ruled in Iowa State’s favor, which is logical because in principal they agreed on a contract, they just hadn’t signed it,” Wine said. “So with reluctance, we started playing them in 1977.”
Skip ahead a few generations. The renewed series, which now enters its 31st straight game, has run through numerous plots and twists. Iowa State dominated the early portion with four wins in six years. Then Iowa rattled off 15 straight wins. Then Iowa State, under former Hawkeye player and assistant coach Dan McCarney, won five straight. Entering today’s game, Iowa has won three of the last four.
Perhaps the strangest subplot now becomes the series’ future. In 1998, former Iowa Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby and former Iowa State Athletics Director Gene Smith signed a deal through 2010. In 2005, correspondence between former Iowa State Athletics Director Bruce Van De Velde and Mark Abbott, the assistant to the athletics director, indicated the sides agreed to play the game through 2020.
Bowlsby and Van De Velde said they considered the contract extended. Abbott said the letters were purely discussion about future dates. Iowa administrators said they plan to renew the deal but need to sign a new contract.
“I don’t see it as being out of the ordinary,” Abbott said. “I expect with new directors at both schools that they’ll work together to extend or renew or whatever this contract under whatever terms they decide to go by. Whether that’s the same or different or whatever, it’s up to them.”
For Iowa State, the terms are the terms. There’s no negotiation because it already took place. The dates are set. The visiting team gets 20 percent of the gate, a difference of about $200,000 for the schools.
Iowa State’s controversial ticket policy could be one area of disagreement. Jamie Pollard, who became Iowa State’s athletics director in late 2005, has charged fans $90 per ticket through Iowa’s ticket office — the visiting school receives a 4,000-ticket allotment. He has refused to sell single-game tickets.
Pollard claims his policy is geared toward energizing his fan base, not alienating his cross-state rival.
“It was an idea from our staff to change the paradigm about how Cyclone fans purchase tickets,” he said. “It was a risk because we’ve never sold that game as a single game, it was always sold to our donors anyway. So what we did was force those donors to — if they wanted tickets — they had to order season tickets.”
Sure he’s heard from Iowa fans, but “no more than you hear on any other issue.”
He also seems unafraid of repercussions from Iowa.
“We only get four thousand tickets when we go over there,” Pollard said. “It’s kind of a moot point.”
So where do they go from here? The options seem fairly clear. First, Iowa could honor the correspondence and play the series as is through 2020. Second, Iowa could walk away after 2010 and force legal or legislative action. Third, the schools could renegotiate the deal into an iron-clad, unambiguous contract.
“What difference does it make?” Bowlsby asked. “They’re going to play every year anyway.”
But it matters to most Iowans. Because, to a lifelong Cyclone like Madden or to Iowa freshmen offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde, the only thing worse than losing to their cross-state foe is not playing them.
“If we didn’t play Iowa State, I tell you the season wouldn’t be half as fun as it is,” Vandervelde said. “I know there was a stretch there when we didn’t play them, and of course I wasn’t alive for that stretch, but I can’t even imagine a year without the Iowa-Iowa State game.”