Big Ten Schedule Change Potentially 'Devastating' To UNI

By Marc Morehouse, Reporter

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz talks with Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Mark Farley before their college football game Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Grant Burkhardt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez said on his radio show Tuesday that Big Ten officials agreed to stop scheduling FCS opponents. That statement reverberated in Iowa, where the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa live and have contracts signed and games on the schedule in 2014 and 2018.

The immediate response was nothing has been finalized, but, yes, this would be a potentially “devastating” prestige hit and a “significant” budget hit for UNI.

“Nothing is a done deal, but those discussions have taken place,” UNI athletics director Troy Dannen said Wednesday, noting the possible addition of a strength of schedule component when FBS moves to a four-team playoff in 2014.

“I didn’t expect it to be a conference-wide thing, I thought it would be institution by institution,” Dannen said. “I think with television starting to drive things here, I think BCS vs. BCS has more interest than BCS vs. FCS and, frankly, BCS vs. MAC (Mid-American Conference), Sun Belt, that type of game.”

The Alvarez statement that rang out so loudly in Iowa was this: “The nonconference schedule in our league is ridiculous,” Alvarez said on WIBA-AM. “It’s not very appealing…So we’ve made an agreement that our future games will all be Division I schools. It will not be FCS schools.”

Next season, Iowa will play Missouri State on Sept. 7. The Hawkeyes open with Northern Iowa in 2014. In 2015, Iowa opens with Illinois State in ’16 it’s North Dakota State, where Iowa athletics director Gary Barta graduated from in 1987. It would be the 30th anniversary season of NDSU’s Division II NCAA 1986 national title, a team Barta played quarterback for.

Iowa also has UNI on the schedule for 2018.

“I like playing and have liked playing UNI on an occasional basis,” said Barta, who was at the same meeting of Big Ten athletics directors and football coaches with Alvarez this week. “What was talked about in the context of scheduling is you look at college football scheduling over the last 20 years, not just in the Big Ten but in college football, and when we added the 12th game, there’s just been a shift to these types of games we’re playing in our non-conference.

“There was a lot of discussion about wanting to re-strengthen for the good of college football, for the good of the Big Ten. One of the reasons why we’re talking about going from eight to nine or 10 games is to strengthen and improve the Big Ten college football game. Same in scheduling non-conference.”

Dannen said as of Wednesday, he’s still planning on the Iowa games for ’14 and ’18. “Frankly, I can’t believe the Big Ten would force its members to buy out current contracts,” Dannen said.

This winter was the first Big Four Classic at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. It included Iowa, Iowa State, UNI and Drake. It also ended UNI and Drake playing host to Iowa and Iowa State every-other year.

“This is a lot different than the basketball series,” Dannen said. “We’re all members of conferences. We’re owned and operated by the state of Iowa.

“I would tell you the loss of the Big Ten schools will be devastating, to UNI and to a lot of our peers. Not just because we wouldn’t play Iowa and have the guarantee, if you think this will stop at the Big Ten…I look at things happening in the equity leagues in fives, and so I have to believe this might lead to additional dominoes.”

Dannen said he knew the Big 12 hadn’t discussed dropping FCS schools from schedules.

The financials of these “guarantee” games matter to UNI. The school received $300,000 from Iowa State during the 2010 season. Last year, Northern Iowa earned $950,000 in guarantees from Iowa and Wisconsin.

Dannen said this move by the Big Ten could be “significantly impactful” on FCS budgets.

“To me, it’s a $500,000 budget hit, and that is significant,” Dannen said. “It impacts our ability to generate money in football. It closes the ranks, it closes us out a little bit more. I understand why it’s happening, but at some point in time, the owners of these institutions — not just stakeholders, I’m talking owners, the state of Iowa — at what point in time do they step in and say, ‘You know what, the interests of a few as such a disservice to the whole that we have to start thinking about the whole again.’

“Money transferred between state institutions is different than money being paid to someone outside the state of Iowa.”

Nothing is finalized, a point Barta drove home Wednesday. The Big Ten will reveal the fate of FCS games likely the same time it does scheduling and divisions for 2014, which could be late spring/early summer.

“Everybody agreed that we want to collectively make college football as good as it can be and we talked about several ideas,” Barta said, “but nothing was finalized.

“We don’t have any final direction. And we will have. We all agree we need to have something done probably before the summer because we all need direction. We all have contracts out. We’re scheduling into the future. We all need some direction where we’re headed. We talked about everything, including whether or not we play FCS.”

But you don’t want to be an athletics director and be using terms like “devastating” and “significant” in front of the word “budget.”

“It’s another shoe, but it’s like an octopus,” Dannen said. “It’s not just two shoes, it’s shoe after shoe that’s going to fall and continues to fall. You just don’t know what the next one is.”
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