It’s hard to say Iowa isn’t a basketball state.
I mean yeah, sure, argue wrestling or football or whatever you want. I’ll listen, but I’m not going to agree. For some reason, basketball is part of the soul of this state. Two high-major and two mid-major Division I squads in the state, each of whom have sent at least one basketball team to the NCAA tournament in the last two years.
There are also several of the top NJCAA and NAIA squads in the nation. Graceland, in fact, won the men’s NAIA championship in Kansas City this season.
A lot of good hoopers have stepped foot in the Hawkeye State. But with two different (though tangibly related) cancelations last week, something changed a little bit. With the PTL folding — joining the Game Time League last year — and Iowa pulling out of the Big Four Classic, it’s just a little sad.
The PTL is actually really what hurt the most. Until I moved after college, I’d lived in Eastern Iowa my entire life. Growing up, I didn’t get a chance to go to any PTL games, but I saw the stats and often read the stories.
It wasn’t until 2016 when I had a chance to finally go cover the games for the DI in North Liberty that I finally understood what it was all about. People went to those games. They lined the walls of the Community Center, rosters in hand, talking to each other about the prospects for the season.
Some, like me, even lined the top of the gym to try and get a better view of what was going on below. I saw little kids eyes light up when an Iowa or UNI player walked by in the hallway and it was just so unique.
Fans didn’t usually hound or hover over the players, but it was cool to see them just casually be around. This was as close as many people got all season to interacting with the players. It was a time to watch them in the summer, see how they’d progressed and enjoy watching them play against people many of them had known for years. It was the epitome of what being from Iowa meant to me — neighbors, friends, whomever coming together to watch the local stars take flight.
Losing that is more than a little tragic.
More than that, however, it sort of feels like we’re cutting Northern Iowa off the branch a bit. It has, to me, always been able to be super easy to relate and enjoy watching UNI compete in sports.
We like to talk about the four major schools in this state as family, which I think is appropriate and accurate. Iowa and Iowa State have a serious sibling rivalry going on, while Northern Iowa has always been that favorite cousin we’re dying to see at the reunion. Drake, I guess, is that other, kinda more established cousin that just has a lot going on and we don’t always spend a lot of time with.
Losing the PTL, losing the Big Four Classic.... it’s like we’re avoiding the family reunion just so we can spend time doing... nothing that really mattered. Granted the Big Four Classic was Aunt Mary’s choice and no one really wanted to go there, but we all went anyways because it was expected of us.
In all honesty, we’d rather just go and visit the people we want to see instead of everyone being thrown together. It may not play as well, but I don’t think it’s a good — or fair — thing our cousins don’t get a home and away.
They’re family, you know? If you’re from Iowa, chances are you’ve stepped foot on one of those other campuses. You likely know people from those different universities. I certainly do.
Sports — and especially basketball — hold a deep, deep place in people’s hearts and this state’s history. Every school in this state deserves to play each other. Don’t kill it.