Earlier this morning, esteemed colleague Pat Vint wrote that Gary Barta's sudden respect for keeping an in-state rival like Northern Iowa on the schedule was a little curious, being that he jettisoned the Panthers when the schedule gave him the opportunity in basketball—and in a sport where UNI provided the benefit to the schedule that Barta (falsely) claimed the UNI football team provided.
On that front, Mr. Vint is exactly right; these considerations were not made in regards to basketball, so this is an uneven (at best) line of reasoning by Barta. Perhaps, for whatever reason, he didn't think he could just come out and say "we'd like to keep Northern Iowa around because it makes my job a lot easier."
But that's really what this is about, and as unseemly as Vint may find it, it's pretty much a necessity. This may come off as simplistic, but it informs the entire dynamic of the decision-making: Barta needs to try as hard as he can to keep UNI on the schedule, because this is Iowa.
That's not some catty, self-loathing declaration. Here's what I mean. Iowa is in the Big Ten, alongside some big-time athletic programs like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and
Rutgers reigning three-time Rose Bowl participant Wisconsin. Those are programs with institutional advantages that Iowa simply doesn't have, and those advantages usually manifest themselves financially.
So yeah, Michigan got creative and challenging with its non-conference schedule (like fans would like Iowa to do in the coming years) and went down to Dallas to get stomped by Alabama. AD Dave Brandon even took a lackluster payday that didn't impress mgoblog to do it. Why? Because Michigan can afford to do that in a way that, I'm sorry, Iowa just can't.
This isn't to say that Iowa is hopelessly behind the rest of the pack in athletic revenue; Iowa's still 15th in the nation (and with minimal subsidies), and a respectable 5th among Big Ten members. It's also over $40 million a year in revenue behind Ohio State and Michigan.
Barta may never be able to close that gap. Not when Michigan football and Ohio State football both mean what they do and Iowa football... means what it does. But it's up to him to do what he can to minimize that gap, and when home football games are as financially advantageous as they are for Iowa, you need to try to find seven every year. And with five road games set in stone every year as soon as the Big Ten moves to nine conference games (plus the continuing Iowa State rivalry), Iowa's really lacking for options when it comes to filling the last two games if they must be at home.
And if Iowa's going to maintain its spot in the top half of the Big Ten in athletic department revenue in the coming years, yeah, those two games are going to have to be at home.
As Pat mentioned, with the future moratorium on FCS games being handed down by the Big Ten, all of a sudden games against MAC opponents are going to be in higher demand as more Big Ten teams turn to the lower ranks of FBS for guaranteed home games without a return visit. Iowa's not the only team out there trying to guarantee seven home games a year, after all. That's why Northern Illinois gets a two-game contract with Iowa that doesn't even begin until 2018, as announced today.
Marc Morehouse, whom we love dearly, was not particularly enthused:
@plannedsickdays LSU in St. Louis? Va Tech in DC? No, MACTION. You'll get MACTION and you'll like it.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) May 10, 2013
MACTION!!!— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) May 10, 2013
But look: for as much fun as it would be to see Iowa meet a big-name program halfway like that and get whatever it can from the neutral venue in return, it wouldn't bring in as much as a home game, and that would directly, negatively impact Iowa's financial competitiveness. You can argue that it would have indirect financial benefits, and there's probably something to that, but unless you can put them on paper and make a forceful, fact-and-number-based argument that this is a net positive, neither Gary Barta nor any AD who's doing their job properly is going to go with it.
Yeah, that sucks. But this is Iowa, and this is how it is.