IOWA CITY — What happened at Penn State last week was great for the Nittany Lions, great for college wrestling, and a bit of a tweak of Iowa.
The current king of the mat is also the new king of dual-meet attendance. Penn State moved out of its 6,846-seat Rec Hall for one night on Dec. 8 to host Pittsburgh in PSU’s Bryce Jordan Center.
With tickets priced at $10 for adults and $5 for kids, and a group rate of $4 per ticket for groups of 15 or more, a crowd of 15,996 watched the Nittany Lions beat their state-rivals, 28-9. In the process, Iowa’s NCAA dual-meet record for fans was broken, by 41 fans.
“That’s a great deal for our program, and it being two Pennsylvania schools, a big deal,” Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson said.
A gathering of 15,955 attended the Iowa State-Iowa meet in Carver-Hawkeye Arena five years ago. It was no coincidence Penn State had a few dozen more people than that last week? But Iowa Coach Tom Brands, who doesn’t lack for pride, tipped his hat to his rivals out East.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Brands said. “I was like ‘Good job.’
“It says something about their program and their fan base. You can’t satisfy their fans. You put them in an 8,000-seat arena, Rec Hall, whatever the capacity is there, and they want more. You put them in a big arena like Bryce Jordan and they fil that up.”
Penn State confronts a less-friendly huge crowd Saturday night when it faces Iowa in Carver. As of Wednesday afternoon, a little over 12,000 tickets had been sold for the dual in the 15,400-seat arena.
This was a meet that almost didn’t happen. The two powers weren’t set to face each other on the Big Ten schedule, so their coaches took the bull by the horns to do their own scheduling. Thus, top-ranked Penn State will face No. 3 Iowa in an environment that will match last February’s white-hot atmosphere when the Hawkeyes knocked off the Lions 22-16.
But at the end of the season, it was Penn State posing for team-championship photos for a third-straight year while Iowa was a distant fourth.
The Lions come to Carver Saturday with six of their wrestlers rated third or higher in one ranking or another. Four Hawkeyes hold that distinction. With the home-arena advantage, call this meet a tossup and then leave up to which side comes up with the majority of the heroics.
Then everyone moves on, because there’s a lot of season left.
At some point, either sometime next season or on when Iowa hosts top-draws Oklahoma State or Minnesota this winter, Iowa will probably have a promotion to try to regain the dual-attendance record. It would need an OK from Iowa City’s Fire Marshal to allow fans to watch from the arena concourse.
“That’s a record you want to get back,” Brands said. “But it’s not Number One.
“Like I always say, the best promotion is winning and dynamic wrestlers that are exciting to watch. That will bring the fans in. I think we have that.”
Penn State has the largest crowd for a dual, but Iowa has 16 of the top 25. The Hawkeyes have 23 NCAA championships. The Lions have only four, but own the last three.
They are two teams that refused to let their conference keep them apart during the regular-season, two programs that gleefully embraced adding another challenge.
This is about competition, not an attendance record. Saturday night won’t be for the timid, on the mat or in the stands.