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Hotel stays for Hawkeyes and Cyclones before home football games grows more expensive
Teams have tradition of sequestering players before games
- The football teams at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have long traditions of staying in hotels before home games to minimize distractions.
- During the 2021-22 season, the Hawkeyes spent $234,615 to house and feed athletes, coaches and medical staff for seven games. The Cyclones spent $330,928 for six home games.
- Inflation has pushed the cost of the hotel stays higher. The 2021-22 hotel costs for the Hawkeye team were up 30 percent from the 2017-18 season, while Cyclone costs were up 72 percent.
- ISU recently accepted proposals for a new contract with Ames hotels. In addition to specific room requirements, the bid documents detail meal demands that include low-fat sour cream, freshly-grated Parmesan cheese and an ice cream sundae bar.
IOWA CITY — The Hawkeye and Cyclone football teams over the last five years have spent a combined $2.2 million housing players, coaches and staff in hotels the night before home games to “minimize distractions” and help the team prepare with better security, nutrition and privacy.
The University of Iowa and Iowa State University both have agreements with hotels in the communities where their players and coaches live to house them on home-game eves — a practice that’s spanned decades and is not unique among major university athletic programs.
“Iowa State has done this for at least 40 years, if not longer,” said Nick Joos, a Cyclones senior associate athletics director and spokesman. “Living in a dorm or off-campus apartment can get crazy on the weekends, so this affords them the best opportunity to get a good night’s rest and be focused for the game.”
Hotel-related home-game expenses include both lodging and meals — which can be pricey, given the need to feed dozens of football players. And costs have been rising annually, although they represent only a tiny fraction of the athletic departments’ budgets.
UI Athletics Department generated nearly $127 million and the ISU department earned over $100 million — both records — in revenue last fiscal year, including income from media contracts, conference revenue and ticket sales, among other sources.
The Hawkeyes for the 2021-22 season spent $234,615 to house and feed up to 74 student-athletes, along with coaches and medical staff, in 50-plus hotel rooms before seven home games. That was up 30 percent over the $180,285 spent for the seven home games five years prior in 2017-18.
The Cyclones last football season spent $330,928 to house and feed about 70 student-athletes — along with coaches and staff — in 50-some hotel rooms before six home games, up 72 percent from the $191,952 spent for the six games in the 2017-18 season.
UI and ISU athletics officials attributed the cost increases to inflation and the price of doing business, along with game times, “which impact the number of meals the team eats at the property,” Joos said.
In total, UI Athletics spent $931,990 housing and feeding its football team in hotels before home games over the five-year span from the 2017-18 season to the 2021-22 season. ISU Athletics spent $1.2 million over that period on home-game hotel rooms and meals.
The University of Northern Iowa doesn’t house student-athletes in hotels before home games.
Neither ISU nor the UI provided the costs of housing their football squads before home games in the current season, which is closing with a Hawkeye appearance in Nashville’s Music City Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Glimpse into a hotel stay
ISU and the UI for years have had agreements with local hotels, and ISU’s current agreement expires at the end of this year — prompting it in late October to issue a request for proposals from Ames-area hotels interested in hosting the team before six to seven home games over the next three seasons.
The contract “to provide lodging, function space, and meals to the ISU football team, coaches, and staff for the evening prior and day of home football games” would extend beyond that core group and time frame, according to ISU bid documents.
It would include lodging for athletic guests, VIPs and donors for the football weekend, as well as year-round lodging for “recruiting visits for recruits and their families.” While the department covers official recruit visits, Joos said, VIPs and donors pay for themselves directly to the hotel.
“We have a small block of rooms that donors and VIPs can purchase rooms out of,” he said. “With limited hotel space in the community that is always sold out on home game weekends, it is imperative that we have the ability to handle last-minute requests.”
The term of the new contract would run from Jan. 1, 2023 through Dec. 31, 2026 and could be renewed for up to two years. Responses were due Dec. 6, and ISU hasn’t yet awarded a contract, according to public records.
Bid documents shed light into what the overnight stays look like and what’s required of hotel hosts — including detailed meal demands, from low-fat sour cream and freshly-grated Parmesan cheese among more than a dozen items preset on every dinner table to a dessert menu that includes an ice cream sundae bar with hot fudge, nuts and cherries, among other things.
Players will pair up in double-queen rooms, while football staffers will stay in 10 king rooms, and the head coach will stay in the king suite, according to bid documents.
“ISU prefers all players’ rooms be situated in a block away from other hotel guests and head coach’s room,” according to the request for proposals. “ISU will not accept rollaway beds or sofa sleepers as substitutes for regular double beds.”
The winning bidder must agree “not to house the opposing team during the same time frame when the ISU team is present.”
“All players’ rooms are to have NO outside phone access,” according to the request for proposals. “ISU also requests that room-to-room phone access be prohibited. In-room internet service shall be prohibited unless free Wi-Fi is available. In room movies shall also be prohibited unless cleared by Skip Brabenec, assistant AD for football/chief of staff.”
Although 70-some student-athletes stay in the hotel, ISU requires any hotel host to have a dining room “big enough to seat 120 athletes and staff.” Team meeting rooms must offer theater-style seating with a “movie screen.”
ISU said it will pick the winning bidder based on overall hotel and food quality, size and location of meeting rooms, references and pricing.
'A football thing’
Neither the UI nor ISU disclosed the names of the hotels with which they are or were contracted — due to privacy and security concerns.
The most recent contract with the UI, originally dated April 2020 and updated in 2022 and for 2023, charged $126 a night for each of its rooms — which included one presidential suite, two executive suites, 33 double queen rooms and 22 king rooms.
The same rates and room numbers are contracted for the 2023 schedule, which includes seven home games.
At ISU, none of the other student-athletes stay in hotels before home games.
“It’s always been a football thing due to the size of the squad,” Joos said. “Having them in one place allows for efficient use of their time for meetings, meals, treatments if needed.”
Although the UI gives other sports the option, no other teams choose to stay in hotels before regular-season home events. Swimming and diving and field hockey squads have stayed in local hotels before postseason events on campus, however, according to UI spokesman Chris Brewer.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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