In maybe its biggest mishap ever, the Iowa athletic department misunderstood the location of the Hawkeyes' NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games scheduled for Friday and Sunday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and sent the team to Brooklyn, Iowa. "Yeah, we really screwed this one up," said athletic director Gary Barta.
Until just days ago, Iowa was considered a shoo-in for a spot in the Des Moines tournament venue, and Iowa had begun planning accordingly. "We rented a bus. A really nice bus, actually, one with a bathroom and those seats that recline and everything," said Barta. "We were all ready to take the Hawkeyes to Des Moines."
But a late-season swoon dropped Iowa out of the top 16 seeds and eliminated any chance of the Hawkeyes playing their first weekend within driving distance. "Or so we thought," said Iowa sports information director Steve Roe. "But then we saw on CBS that we were selected for Brooklyn, and everyone here immediately believed that Greg Gumbel was talking about the Community of Flags."
"We hadn't heard anything about Brooklyn hosting the Tournament, but if it ever did, it would make sense that Iowa would play there," he added.
It's easy to understand the confusion: Brooklyn, Iowa is just 45 miles from Iowa City, an easy trip down Interstate 80. Brooklyn, New York is 1,000 miles in the opposite direction. But the proximity to Iowa City is the smaller Brooklyn's only real upside for the Hawkeyes and their fans. Brooklyn, New York's Barclays Center holds 18,000 ticketholders and sits in a metropolis that can support those fans. Brooklyn, Iowa has a high school gymnasium and more flags than people.
"When you put it that way, we probably should have caught the mistake," said Barta.
Unfortunately, nobody realized the error until the team's bus had continued past the I-380 interchange and made an unscheduled stop at the Williamsburg Arby's, at the urging of center Adam Woodbury. "They have the meats!" exclaimed Woodbury upon arriving at the roast beef sandwich outpost. The team then spent two hours at the nearby outlet mall, though all members avoided the Under Armour store for fear of feeling even heavier than the Arby's had made them.
Coach Fran McCaffery and his team held a lightly-attended press conference at the high school auditorium Tuesday afternoon, as the extent of Iowa's travel folly was unfolding. The only reporter in attendance, The Gazette's Scott Dochterman, asked McCaffery why the Hawkeyes were still in Iowa and not traveling to New York. "That's none of your business," McCaffery fired back before storming out of the auditorium, misidentifying the locker room, and accidentally interrupting a shop class.
Iowa is still trying to get the team to New York. "The fees for keeping the bus in Brooklyn were insane, so we sent the driver home," said Barta. Finding a new bus has been problematic, as has been locating a charter plane and hotel in New York City at the last minute. Barta reached out to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who referred him to the conference's top expert on traveling. "Yogi Ferrell was too busy getting ready for Indiana's game to help, though," said Barta. The athletic department has said that Iowa's 85-member crew team stands ready to row the team to New York City if it can find nine more boats and a nautical route to Brooklyn in time for Thursday's game.
This is hardly the first time that an Iowa university has traveled to the wrong destination for a tournament game. In fact, Iowa State accidentally sent its basketball team to Denver, Iowa earlier in the week. Fortunately, the Cyclones were able to fit every relevant member of their team into a borrowed hatchback and make it to Colorado with time to spare.