These are good times -- very good times -- for Iowa sports. The football team just went 12-2, went to the Rose Bowl, and ended the year in the AP Top Ten. The basketball team is 13-3, 4-0 in the Big Ten, and poised to zoom up the rankings. The wrestling team is 10-0 and ranked #2 in the polls. Everything is pretty much awesome. But how rare is this for Hawkeye sports? Let's take a look at the history of Iowa being ranked in multiple sports at the same time.
|Dec. 6, 1956||3||4||?|
|Jan. 3, 1961||3||7||5|
|Dec. 1, 1981||13||6||1|
|Jan. 5, 1982||18||5||2|
|Nov. 29, 1983||10||5||1|
|Dec. 6, 1983||10||5||1|
|Jan. 8, 1985||16||19||1|
|Dec. 8, 1985||3||18||1|
|Dec. 2, 1986||19||5||1|
|Jan. 6, 1987||16||2||2|
|Dec. 1, 1987||18||6||2|
|Dec. 8, 1987||18||3||2|
|Jan. 5, 1988||16||16||4|
|Jan. 8, 1991||18||22||1|
|Nov. 25, 1991||7||21||1|
|Dec. 2, 1991||7||21||1|
|Jan. 8, 1996||25||11||1|
|Nov. 19, 1996||24||25||1|
|Dec. 9, 2003||13||24||3|
|Nov. 30, 2004||12||23||9|
|Dec. 7, 2004||11||17||9|
|Jan. 11, 2005||8||24||9|
|Dec. 6, 2005||25||12||6|
|Jan. 18, 2016||9||???||2|
In general, the date used is for the AP men's basketball poll, with the most recent AP football poll tied to that. The AP does not do wrestling rankings, so the poll there is the NWCA Coaches Poll, a long-standing poll for wrestling rankings. The earliest archives for that poll began in 1960, hence the ? mark for the 1956 rankings above.
There's a fairly small window of time when basketball and football polls overlap -- basically just a few weeks in late November and early December and then after the final football poll in January. (Wrestling polls run roughly the same time as basketball polls, from mid-to-late November through March.) To be ranked in both requires slightly different things -- you need a football team that's already had a very good season (no one's ranked that late in the season unless they're good) and you need a basketball team that's had some early success and/or was expected to do well in the preseason (although preseason expectations are largely filtered out by the time of the January poll).
The high-water mark for Iowa sports came in early January 1961 -- with a caveat. The football team was 8-1 and Big Ten co-champions (they shared the title with Minnesota, who beat them head-to-head and went to the Rose Bowl) and ended the year ranked 3rd. The basketball team was buzzing and ranked 7th in the nation. The wrestling team wasn't the powerhouse that it would be a few decades later, but it was still a very solid 5th in the country. The caveat to this ranking is that the football team ranking came from the end of November and the basketball ranking came from the beginning of January (as did the wrestling ranking). But that was the final football ranking of the season (back then, they did ranking before bowl games because... reasons) and it was the earliest-listed basketball rankings for that season. We fudged the parameters a bit to include that year, but hey -- it was a great time for Iowa sports.
There was a long gap between instances of the programs being ranked at the same time after that, largely because the football team sort of took off the rest of the 60s. And the 70s. Iowa football was ranked in the October 30, 1961 AP poll. They weren't ranked in another AP poll until the September 28, 1981 AP poll. December 1981 proved to be a very good time for Hawkeye sports, though: Iowa football ended the year 8-3, ranked 13th, and poised to make their first Rose Bowl trip in decades. Iowa basketball was in the midst of the Lute Olson glory days and ranked 6th. And Dan Gable had the Iowa juggernaut rolling along, ranked #1 in wrestling. They were all still ranked a month later, although slightly lower after losses by Iowa football (to
UCLA Washington in the Rose Bowl) and Iowa wrestling.
1983 brought more good times for Iowa sports -- at least for a bit. The football team ended the year regular season 9-3, ranked 10th, and headed to the Gator Bowl. The basketball team was ranked 5th in the early going that season. Iowa wrestling was Iowa wrestling, chewing through everyone in their path. The good times skidded to a halt after that, though -- Iowa lost the Gator Bowl and Iowa basketball fell from #5 in early December to all the way out of the polls by the time the final football poll was released, a tremendous collapse. Still the moment before that collapse was the last time that Iowa football and basketball (and wrestling) were ranked in the Top 10 at the same time -- although that drought might come to end on Monday when the new AP Poll is released, if Iowa can beat Michigan in hoops on Sunday and continue their rapid ascent up the rankings.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of the '80s brought several more instances of Iowa being ranked in all three sports at the same time. That was a truly golden era for Hawkeye sports, with the Rose Bowl year in 1985 followed by several other solid football seasons and Iowa hoops' incredible 30-5 campaign in 1986-87 bookended by many other quality seasons, too. (Iowa wrestling just keep ticking along in that span, too, dominating all comers for several consecutive seasons.)
There were a few overlaps in the '90s as well. Good football teams in 1990 and 1991 finished up quality seasons at the same as solid basketball teams hung on to the lower reaches of the Top 25. In 1995, the football rode a dominant Sun Bowl win over Washington into the final AP rankings of the season while Iowa basketball had the 11th ranked team. A year later, both Iowa football and basketball found themselves ranked in the lower reaches of the Top 25 briefly.
There was another drought after that, mainly due to the football program going into extended hibernation. Kirk Ferentz got them going by the early '00s, though, and we saw a few overlaps between those 02-04 football teams and some quality basketball teams that managed to sneak into the rankings in late November or early December. The high water mark there was the 2004 season, which saw Iowa football end the regular season ranked 11th, while Iowa hoops was as high as 17th. (Wrestling was at one of its lowest ebbs back then, though, dropping to 9th.) Iowa was still ranked a month later, with football rising to #8 after "The Catch" and basketball dipping to 24th.
Iowa pulled off the rankings overlap again a year later, when the football team finished the regular season ranked 25th, while the basketball team was buzzing at #12. ([REDACTED], for all his flaws, had some very good Iowa teams in that 04-06 window.) And that poll in December 2005 was the last time that Iowa football and basketball have been ranked at the same time -- at least until this month.
Iowa basketball had more success after that poll -- the 2005-06 season led to a Big Ten Tournament victory and a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament (no, we're not going to talk about what happened after that), but the football program went into a prolonged funk kicked off by the Outback Bowl loss to Florida after the 2005 regular season. By the time they emerged from the muck in 2008-2010, the basketball program had absolutely imploded and was years away from even sniffing the rankings. By the time the basketball program regained solid footing and returned to the rankings (the 2013-14) season Iowa football had fallen back into the muck a bit. (Iowa football's 2013 season wasn't bad, but at no point during that season was Iowa good enough to crack the Top 25.)
And now we're here -- Iowa football has rocketed back to prominence on the back of a stunning 12-0 regular season and Iowa basketball is putting together their own remarkable season, building off their success the past two years. Meanwhile, wrestling continues their consistent success and is bidding to regain Big Ten and NCAA Tournament glory in a few months. These are very, very good times indeed to be an Iowa fan, with success in all the major sports (including women's basketball, although I did not include their rankings results in this post). As you can see above, it's not all that often that Iowa has success in multiple sports at the same time. Let's enjoy it.
The AP Poll archives here were a huge help in terms of the research needed for this post. Wrestling rankings were drawn from the archives here. And a huge hat-tip/terrorist fist jab/thank you to commenter the notorious r.d.m., who did a lot of the legwork for this post and whose aid was invaluable. Thank you, sir!