In early November, Iowa assistant coach and former player Brian Ferentz drew some heat when he openly criticized the Kinnick Stadium gameday experience on Twitter:
I know that the stadium experience is lacking but this team needs your support - do it on your own. Best fans in the country! #MelroseMagic— Brian Ferentz (@CoachBFerentz) November 1, 2013
Ferentz's comments were echoed by his dad, who admitted that the stadium experience is "lacking at times." Ferentz cited the sound system and scoreboards as problematic, despite the fact that the university spent $9 million upgrading the scoreboards and sound before last season.
The bigger problem in 2013 was attendance. The 30-game sellout streak at Kinnick Stadium came to an end on Black Friday against Nebraska in 2012, with the students home on Thanksgiving break and the team limping to a four-win finish. While the Hawkeyes rebounded to eight wins and a bowl appearance in 2013, attendance continued to lag. Iowa failed to sell out a single 2013 home game, the first time that has happened since Kirk Ferentz took over in 1999.
Students, who were moved to seats in the corner of the stadium years ago, were the primary culprit behind the attendance drop, and it's easy to see why. Students are largely shut out of the gameday experience, with every parking spot within shouting distance of the stadium taken by boosters and former student tailgate spots systematically shut down by the school. With no place to pregame, limited transportation options, and poor seats (especially at the top of the student section), a lot of students stayed home.
The speakers definitely need improvement, but putting some music from the last decade through those speakers couldn't hurt. Iowa's soundtrack is unsurprisingly heavy on classic rock. The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and the epic troubadors from Ramjam get heavy rotation throughout a gameday afternoon, and while there are plenty of Iowa fans who probably love those bands (me included), "Start Me Up" isn't typically on a student's playlist.
And so when Iowa took the field at Valley High Saturday with a soundtrack heavy on hip hop from this century (with some modern country mixed in, because I'm pretty sure Brandon Scherff made them) and started chucking the rock all over the field, it felt so...immediate. So fresh. So fun. It wasn't without its cringeworthy moments -- one edited version of a Jay Z/Kanye West track was almost unlistenable after the PG overdubs -- but it still felt like a significant improvement over the opening chords of "Machinehead" again. And I'm 33. I should fucking love "Machinehead." I'm not a student, for which it could play a part in deciding whether to attend the game or stay at a downtown bar. When those students attend and engage, the rest of the crowd joins in. Kinnick becomes a madhouse again. Brian Ferentz stops complaining.
That's not even mentioning the effect on the game itself. Remember when the team started dancing on the sideline before overtime of the 2012 Michigan State game in East Lansing?
Iowa wasn't originally dancing to Junior Senior there; it was dancing to the aforementioned Jay Z/Kanye track, played over the Spartan Stadium speakers. And it won that game. It won an overtime game against Northwestern in 2013 where it showed the same kind of emotion, so I'm not about to say it's all because of the music. But if the music helps, if it gives the team just a hint of a kick in the ass before a key play or an overtime, then shouldn't we dispense of our middle-aged sensibilities and play the damn music they want?
There are any number of other explanations for Saturday's playlist -- it's a list the team uses during practice but is verboten on gameday; it was provided by the hosts; it's a temporary experiment with embracing modern pop music -- but if Iowa's athletic department really wanted to fill those few remaining seats and improve a stadium experience that its own coaches have dismissed as "lacking," it's worth it.