IOWA CITY — The Iowa Athletics Department does not know where the Hawkeye football team will be headed for their bowl game.
The days of “backroom” deals and pitching a school’s attractiveness to potential bowls are finished, deputy director of athletics Gene Taylor said after Thursday’s meeting of the President’s Committee on Athletics.
Taylor said Athletic Director Gary Barta has had a conversation about Iowa’s preference with Big Ten officials, who in turn have talked to bowl representatives — making the Outback Bowl, Holiday Bowl and Music City Bowl the three most likely candidates.
At this point, it’s out of Iowa’s hands.
“I promise you, nobody knows yet where we’re going, other than those three are the best options. That’s about it. We won’t know probably until about 2 p.m. on Sunday,” Taylor said. “They look at a lot of things — when was the last time we were in that bowl, when was the last time we were in that area; how do our fans travel? One of the rules is if you’ve been to a place in the last couple of years, you’re off that list.
“A lot will depend on what happens with what the top four (ranked Big Ten teams) end up doing that could drive the other bowls in terms of where our priority is.”
It’s that last point that Taylor drove home in terms of why Iowa’s bowl selection is far from obvious.
The Hawkeyes’ finish to the season changed their outlook tremendously, punctuated by the win against Nebraska on Black Friday. That victory ostensibly made Iowa the fifth best Big Ten team, which shifted what looked like a clear picture of the Huskers going to the Outback Bowl and the Hawkeyes to the Holiday Bowl.
Before the Iowa men’s basketball team tipped off against Notre Dame on Tuesday, Barta was on the pregame radio show and said the Music City Bowl was inching out of the picture. Taylor said the uncertainty of where Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin will end up — College Football Playoff or otherwise — are the biggest contributing factors for that.
“Just the whole reality of how many Big Ten teams could get into the College Football Playoff or get into the New Year’s Six — that changes so much of the landscape,” Taylor said. “Then everyone knows the Outback is the next pick in line, but would they go after us? We’ve been there, Nebraska hasn’t. Who’s going to be higher rated? All that comes into play. That’s why I think the Outback has come into play more, because of our win over Nebraska and the other Big Ten schools.”
Taylor insisted Iowa would enjoy going to any of the three locations.
The Outback Bowl is familiar to Iowa fans — the Hawkeyes went to Tampa in 2004 (31-17 win over Florida), 2006 (31-24 loss to Florida), 2009 (31-10 win over South Carolina) and 2014 (21-14 loss to LSU). Iowa hasn’t been to the Holiday Bowl since 1991 (13-13 tie with BYU), but has three appearances overall in San Diego (wins over San Diego State and Wyoming in 1986 and 1987, respectively). The Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., would be a homecoming for quarterback C.J. Beathard, and an easily drivable distance for the fan base.
Taylor said Coach Kirk Ferentz sees all three as “prestige bowls” and that the difference between playing on Dec. 27 (Holiday) and Jan. 2 (Outback) is likely just football related, and doesn’t have much impact exposure-wise.
Ultimately the process Barta, the Big Ten and the bowls go through now is much better than the old system, Taylor said. The behind-the-scenes deals and pitches being eliminated makes it “more fair to the bowl partners,” and “it keeps fan fatigue down” because schools aren’t going to one bowl or region repeatedly.
“There would be a lot of backroom, trying to give them our alumni numbers, the last number of tickets we sold — that really doesn’t happen. I think Gary has called each of those bowl reps one time and they’ve had a conversation and that’s about all it is,” Taylor said. “I don’t think Gary gets a call saying, ‘OK Gary, these are the two that want you, which one do you want to go to?’ I don’t believe that happens. I think he gets a call and they say, ‘Based on your preference, this is who is going to invite you to come play.’
“I think we would go anywhere at this point, we really would.”
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