One of the things Gary Barta discussed after Iowa's open practice in West Des Moines on Saturday was the fact that he had been lobbying the Big Ten's television partners (ESPN/ABC and Big Ten Network) to put Iowa football back in primetime in 2015. Sayeth Barta:
"I love night games," Barta said. "The feel, the environment, the atmosphere. Winning games is obviously No. 1. That creates excitement. We want game day to be fun. And the night game adds to that."
"If you think about our fan base, they come from all over the state and across the country," Barta said. "On a nice day, they'd have all day to enjoy tailgating and then move into the stadium under the lights. It creates a different environment that's a lot of fun."
"Fun" is what you promote when the product no longer sells itself. And after a bitterly disappointing 2014 campaign and a two-year run where Iowa has gone 11-11 at home (a run that includes one win over an in-state or border rival*, and two losses apiece to MAC teams and Iowa State), it's fair to say that the product no longer sells itself. When you need to offer money for concessions and coupons for Herky's Locker Room to sell season tickets or drop student ticket prices to their lowest level in a decade, well, the product no longer sells itself. So, sure, why not double down on trying to boost the "fun" factor for Iowa games by going after another shiny distraction like night games, too? (That said, the notion of Barta touting the virtues of fans having "all day to enjoy tailgating" even as the UI administration and Iowa City police have increased their efforts in recent years to make tailgating less fun for Iowa fans... well, who says irony is dead?)
* If you want to argue that UNI or Northwestern are "in-state or border rivals"... whatever.
It's hard to sell a "team on the rise" narrative after a team limps to losses in its final three games and graduates most of its best players, so Barta opted for the "we haven't had a night game for a while, so we're due" argument. And it apparently worked -- quite well, in fact. Iowa will be playing in not one, but two night games in 2015.
Iowa plays Pitt on Saturday, September 19. Iowa hosts Minnesota on Saturday, November 14. Dress warmly for that second game. BTN will televise both games**, although exact start times have yet to be announced. You can probably figure on the action kicking off at either 6 or 7 PM CT, though.
** In fact, technically the games announced yesterday were just for BTN's primetime slate. ESPN/ABC will be announcing their own primetime games later this spring and technically they could pick up an Iowa game as well, although that seems... unlikely, at best. There's also a possibility that the Iowa-Iowa State game ends up in primetime (the game is in Ames, so the Big 12 TV deal controls the broadcast rights for that game), as it did in 2013.
The last time Iowa kicked off a game under the lights at Kinnick this happened:
In a season full of low points, that game may have been the absolute nadir. Two of Iowa's best offensive linemen suffered season-ending injuries on almost back-to-back plays, Mark Weisman got dinged up, the Iowa offense went from bad to wretched, and the defense got beat from smacked around the field by Penn State. That loss was the beginning of a six-game losing streak that Iowa rode to the season's conclusion.
But there have been happier times for Iowa football in primetime, too, like this:
In fact, the last time Iowa played Minnesota in a game with an evening kick-off... well, this happened:
Cynicism aside, night games can be an awful lot of fun. As Barta correctly noted, they really do have a wholly unique energy and an entirely different vibe than a game that kicks off at 11 AM or 2:30 PM. I've attended several primetime kickoffs in Kinnick and even games against pedestrian opponents, like Syracuse in 2007, felt bigger and more exciting -- purely because the game was kicking off in primetime. And who knows -- if these evening kick-offs give the fanbase an extra jolt and put a little extra pep in the players' steps... well, it sure can't hurt. Iowa can use every extra advantage they can get in 2015.