IOWA CITY — Good for Iowa.
As in good for the University of Iowa for scheduling the University of Northern Iowa in football.
Good for Iowa.
As in UNI-Iowa football games are good for everyone involved.
The Hawkeyes didn’t have to schedule FCS Northern Iowa for football games Saturday and in 2020. They could have brought in an FCS or FBS bottom-feeder, mopped the Kinnick Stadium field with the opponent, handed it its paycheck for being a sacrifice, and it would have been business as usual in college football.
Instead, Iowa not only is sharing wealth with UNI and giving it a treasured experience, it is competing against a program with a history of being far more than competent.
“I openly thank (Iowa athletics director Gary) Barta and the Iowa administration,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said Monday, “because I think this game is good for them like it’s good for us. People want to see this game. I think the crowds have testified to that.”
Saturday night’s game is sold out, 69,250 tickets. This will be the fourth sellout in the Panthers’ last five games in Kinnick, dating to 2005.
In contrast, Iowa’s home games against FBS North Texas drew crowds of 56,041 and 65,668 in 2015 and 2017, respectively. The Hawkeyes’ 2014 game with FBS Ball State had 64,210 fans.
Were UNI a perennial mediocrity, we’d view this differently. But the fact it lost by just 1, 11 and 8 points at Iowa in 2009, 2012 and 2014 means the Hawkeyes know this is more of a challenge than playing a MAC or Sun Belt punching bag from the FBS division.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday about playing the Panthers. “And Gary and I are same page on that one just like we are on the Iowa State series. It’s good for our state.
“I really think we’re a very unique state of three million people, you’ve got two teams that won bowl games last year and you’ve got an FCS program that’s always in the playoffs. They’re always chasing the championship. I think it’s something we should all embrace, and I think that’s our plan is at least to continue that.”
In 2015, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany decreed his league’s teams would no longer schedule FCS teams. It was high-minded. And impractical. The other four Power Five conferences rolled their eyes.
This year, Iowa and Illinois are the only Big Ten teams playing FCS opponents. Contracts for those two games already had been in place. Meanwhile, each of the 14 teams in the ACC and SEC will play FCS teams, and 45 of the 50 Power Five teams outside the Big Ten were scheduled to do so.
However, most of those games don’t pull at in-state heartstrings. The majority are easy pickings for the bigger boys. They aren’t what you might call sporting.
Last Saturday, Miami (Fla.) beat Savannah State, 77-0. Texas Tech downed Lamar by the same score. Auburn handled Alabama State, 63-9. Tennessee pounded East Tennessee State, 59-3. Syracuse walloped Wagner, 62-10.
There are outliers. There always are. Samford led Florida State much of the game last Saturday before losing, 36-26. FCS superpower North Dakota State has a six-game winning streak over FBS teams, the most recent victory being its 23-21 upset of Iowa in 2016.
But as a rule, FBS-FCS matchups make for crummy games. UNI-Iowa is not among them. It was good for Iowa and UNI that Delany relented in 2017, allowing Big Ten teams with just four conference home games to play an FCS team.
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Thus, Iowa has UNI again in 2020. The Hawkeyes then have premier FCS programs coming in 2022 (South Dakota State, ranked No. 3 this week) and 2024 (Illinois State, national runner-up in 2014 and a winner at Northwestern in 2016).
It’s no coincidence those three and North Dakota State are from the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the SEC of the FCS. Or the Big Ten of the FCS. Let’s just say the MVFC is the boss of the FCS and leave it at that.
So again, kudos to the Hawkeyes for playing the Panthers. Now, how about getting UNI back on the Iowa men’s basketball schedule every year?
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