The success of the Iowa men’s track and field team over the weekend (in case you’ve been living under a proverbial rock, they just completed the season sweep of the indoor and outdoor conference championships, making it two straight Big Ten outdoor titles) has had me thinking quite a bit about Iowa athletics at large. Like so many, I grew up on Hawkeye football and basketball. I wasn’t even lucky enough to grow up in a household that was in on wrestling, so unlike a lot you I haven’t been able to taste that sweet success, though I am trying like hell to get in on that action now (better late than never, right?).
Despite having a dad who ran college track and to this day will tune in whenever it’s on TV, I never really got into it. I never really got into any of the non-revenue sports with the slight caveat of baseball and soccer being technically non-revenue for college purposes despite being big bucks at the professional levels.
That’s had me wondering why the heck those aren’t revenue sports. I mean, millions of people soak up soccer matches and baseball games every year. Ditto hockey. People pay money to get special TV packages showing their team and fork over loads of cash to go to those games at the professional level. Why not for college? Is the product that inferior? Is the gap between professional baseball and college baseball that much bigger than the gap between professional and college basketball?
It feels like no to me. It feels like those sports should be getting a bigger platform at the college level and that they could at the very least be much closer to break even enterprises with a little effort.
Baseball, for example, seems primed for an uptick in this conference. But you can hardly even watch a Big Ten baseball game on TV. This weekend, for example, the Hawkeyes will travel to Northwestern for a three game set. Only one of those games is set to be televised on BTN. That’s the 1pm first pitch on Friday. Saturday’s matchup at the same time will be streamed on BTN+. On the big boy station, they’ll be playing Michigan at Penn State football from 2013.
That is to say that the conference has its own television network, has paid for the infrastructure to have TV cameras in place and rolling for a live sports event and instead of putting it on live TV they will be showing a replay of a football game from eight years ago while the baseball game is available via streaming only for those who pay for it.
Now, I don’t want to go all Jamie Pollard on the BTN here, but if the conference wanted to grow those non-revenue sports, it seems like some low hanging fruit would be to simply put their own games on their own TV network ahead of showing replays of the same five games from nearly a decade ago over and over. Perhaps then they could even do the unthinkable and sell the leftover games to other networks, if say, people started to care about the sport more since they could actually follow along.
It’s not just the network though. The schools themselves could do a lot more to boost their revenues. Attendance in Iowa City has been solid once made possible this year, but in future years there’s no reason they couldn’t build on the momentum they have. The game is America’s pastime and something generations have enjoyed soaking in as a family. So why not make it more of a family affair? Why not tie in a series with the spring open football practice? Why not bring your hoops NPOY come sign autographs at Duane Banks instead of some store in Coralville? Why not partake in the nutty games and entertainment of every minor league team in the country? Why not try out selling alcohol or partner with local establishments to offer a limited menu premium seating spot for dinner and a game?
The answer is probably somewhere between laziness and bias towards the status quo (and lots of details I likely overlook), but those are my questions after seeing a sport I pay little attention to grab my attention with authority over the weekend. What questions do you all have this week?