Could This Be The Last Year Iowa Plays Iowa State In Ames?

Unless you've been living in a cave for the last few days, you're probably aware of the dominant college football storyline of the last few days (and, no, it's not Les Miles' continued contortions of the English language, amusing as they might be): conference realignmentpalooza is ratcheting up (again) and the epicenter is the Big XII (again).  Texas A&M formally asked for a divorce from the Big XII last week, but can't go to the SEC until the SEC gets assurances that the Aggies' jilted ex-wife (the Big XII) wouldn't turn around and sue their new squeeze.  They got a promise from the league last week that they would keep their lawsuits holstered, only that turned out to be a fairly meaningless promise, since it wasn't exactly binding on the member institutions.  

Baylor took butthurt (and hypocrisy) to a new level over the weekend, and we found out yesterday that they weren't the only ones who were trying to cockblock Texas A&M's move to the SEC.  In fact, Iowa State was also one of the other Big XII schools refusing to waive their right to file suit against the SEC.  Eventually, those developments morphed into a story where Baylor, Iowa State, and several other Big XII teams were refusing to sign an agreementto waive their right to sue unless Oklahoma toned down its own "I'ma get outta this hellhole!" rhetoric and recommitted itself to the league.  

Ultimately, of course, Texas A&M will leave the Big XII and head to the SEC: short of Texas doing something crazy like scrapping The Longhorn Network (not happening) and agreeing to greater revenue sharing within the Big XII (also probably not happening), A&M's marriage to the Big XII is too broken to survive.  And even that might not be enough if they're just hellbent on escaping Texas' shadow and influence.  If Oklahoma can be placated and prevented from also bolting (and ignore the "recommitment" nonsense unless it comes with some sort of egregious financial penalty to the departing school -- the ten remaining Big XII schools "recommitted" to the league after Nebraska and Colorado skipped town last summer... and yet here we are again knee-deep in realignment madness a year later), the Big XII can probably survive in the short-term, either as a nine-team league or by poaching someone else (perhaps BYU or Boise State or one of the former Southwest Conference dregs floating around C-USA).  

Still, the ultimate outcome for the Big XII is overwhelmingly likely to be pain and disintegration: there's just no way around that when over half of the league's membership has either left or flirted heavily with leaving.  The only ones who haven't flirted with leaving are the ones who aren't guaranteed better homes if this one burns down: Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas, and Kansas State.  The Kansas schools are probably in the best shape, since Kansas basketball is one of the few hoopyball programs powerful enough to hold some sway in Realignmentmania.  It's probably enough to get them a Big East invite (with Kansas State palling along for the ride).  But Iowa State?  Baylor?  They could easily be left without a chair when the music stops on this game of conference musical chairs.  Maybe Iowa State also gets a Big East nod (even as a middling BXII program, they have more fan support in football than half the Big East).  (Although now there's some chatter of Baylor going to the Big East.)

But what if they don't?  What if Iowa State finds themselves with no BCS conference home and is instead turning tricks in C-USA or the MAC or the Mountain West Conference?  What does that mean for the future of the Iowa-Iowa State series?  Does that mean Iowa and Iowa State would no longer play every year?  Not necessarily: the game generates significant interest (and revenue) around the state and while there's no law that requires Iowa to play Iowa State every year in football, there would probably be significant political pressure for them to continue to do so. 

But where would those games be played?  The current home-and-away set-up has been a money-loser for Iowa for years, but it was difficult to get that changed when Iowa State was still in the Big XII and an on-paper equal to Iowa. An Iowa State in the MAC is no longer an on-paper equal to Iowa.  Could Iowa get the terms of the agreement altered to play every year at Kinnick Stadium?  Or even switched to playing one out of every three or four years in Ames rather than every other year?  Possibly.  Conversely, there might be even more pressure on Iowa to "help out" their downtrodden little brother and give them at least one guaranteed home sellout every other year.  Iowa State already lost one biannual money-spinning home game when Nebraska jumped ship for the Big Ten and games against the likes of Northern Illinois and Ball State aren't likely to pack out the bleachers at Jack Three Times.  

Hopefully, Iowa would fight tooth and nail against that outcome since they would gain absolutely nothing from playing a MAC team home and away every year.  Go ahead and list off all the other BCS conference schools that play a non-BCS school home and away every year.  I'll wait.  It would also further cripple Iowa's ability to schedule interesting non-conference opponents (already endangered by the Big Ten's impending move to nine conference games) and jeopardize their strength of schedule standing.

So, what, ultimately is the effect on Iowa if (when?) the Big 12 disintegrates and ISU is left without a BCS conference to call home?  That's still TBD, but I think there's a very, very good chance that it could end with Iowa making a lot fewer trips to Ames.  And I can't imagine anyone but Iowa State fans would shed a tear about that.

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