Iowa still likely to play UNI in 2014, 2018

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IOWA CITY — Big Ten officials approved a scheduling philosophy Sunday designed to keep its member schools from scheduling Football Championship Subdivision opponents beginning in 2016.

But the guidelines are loose and ambiguous.

“It isn’t a matter of not being allowed, the question really is will be there opportunities,” University of Iowa President Sally Mason told The Gazette. “I wouldn’t say that it’s not going to be allowed. Certainly my understanding is if we’ve already scheduled out past 2016 for some of these match-ups, that’s likely to be allowed.”

That’s the position at least one of Iowa’s scheduled FCS opponents is taking. The Hawkeyes are scheduled to play Northern Iowa in 2014 and 2018, and the schools plan to continue their instate series, UNI Athletics Director Troy Dannen said.

“At this point in time I don’t think there’s an absolute prohibition,” Dannen said. “I’ve already spoke with Gary (Barta, Iowa’s athletics director) and I’m operating under the assumption that we have a ‘14 game and an ‘18 game with Iowa. I’m under the assumption that nothing is going to change until I’m given some absolute direction otherwise. Right now I don’t have any reason to believe that will happen and will be given that direction.”

The Big Ten and its television partners want its schools to play higher-profile opponents and not just collect victories for paychecks. With the league expanding to 14 members in 2014, officials want the schools to play more, not less.

“Commissioner (Jim) Delany announced (Sunday) we will move to nine conference games in 2016, and, beginning that same year, will also focus on playing more ‘comparable’ opponents and BCS level teams,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said.

“Currently we are scheduled to play Northern Iowa in 2014 and 2018. The new parameters would not allow us to play additional games in the future, but we’ll work with the conference to see about keeping the two games already scheduled.”

The Big Ten approved a nine-game league schedule beginning in 2016 and wants each of its schools to upgrade its non-conference schedule. Eliminating FCS competition is seen as a positive. But for schools like Northern Iowa or North Dakota State — which recently has beaten Minnesota and meets Iowa in 2016 — competitive games aren’t the problem.

Northern Iowa competed in losses at Wisconsin (26-21) and Iowa (27-16). North Dakota State has won the last two FCS titles and has beaten Minnesota the teams’ last two meetings.

“I’d be hard-pressed to believe that playing North Dakota State or Northern Iowa says less about your team than playing Eastern Michigan or a school at the bottom of the Sun Belt,” Dannen said.

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